Perhaps a pair of parents or grandparents is feeling exhausted trying to maintain a house that has become too big for them. Or maybe an elderly loved one can no longer cook, or requires assistance with other day-to-day tasks. These are just two of the many situations that can tell you it's time to consider a new type of senior living environment for your older relative. But deciding that a loved one needs a new living situation is often a much quicker decision than figuring out why kind of senior living option is right for that friend or family member. Indeed, with numerous options available-independent living communities, in-home care, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, etc.-it can often take many hours of research to determine which style of care is right.
For this article, we've put together a quick primer of the main senior living options. We will briefly define each type of care, as well as give you an idea of the signs you can look for to decide whether or not a senior living option is the right one for your elderly loved one.
Independent Living: Independent living communities (also often referred to as retirement communities) are often seen as the first rung of the senior living ladder. Seniors in these communities have their own private apartments, villas, or townhomes and don't need much medical care or assistance yet. Usually, independent living communities are ideal for seniors who no longer want the burden of a big house, but are healthy enough to take care of themselves, prepare most of their meals, and manage their own affairs. Retirement communities also have the added perk of sparking close friendships between residents. In fact, seniors will often be drawn to independent living communities because of the social aspect.
In-Home Care: If an elderly family member wants to remain in their home, but needs assistance with a few everyday tasks-bathing, dressing, preparing meals, managing medications, getting the mail, tidying up, etc.-then in-home care might be a good option. In this type of senior care scenario, a caregiver will actually come to the senior's house on a regular basis. That basis can be once a day or once a week, depending on how independent the senior is and depending on what their specific needs are. In situations where family either doesn't live nearby, or can't be around often enough to help out consistently (because of work, school, or other obligations), in-home care can be a good option. It can give seniors a chance to stay in a familiar environment for longer, which in turn can help keep their memory sharper.
Assisted Living: The care model in assisted living communities is essentially a mix of the independent living and in-home care options described above. Seniors living in private apartments, as in retirement communities, but are frequently visited by nurses or aides, similar to in-home care. Generally, seniors in assisted living communities have reached a point with their health, their mobility, or both where they can no longer safely live on their own. Many of the services that caregivers provide in assisted living communities-help with meals, medications, bathing, using the bathroom, dressing, housekeeping, and more-aren't actually that different from the services provided in the in-home care model. The difference is, these services are needed more frequently, requiring 24-hour access, supervision, or care that is simply not possible through in-home care. In other words, if an older family member has reached a point where you don't feel comfortable leaving them alone for any period of time, then assisted living might be the right choice.
Nursing Homes: When an elderly loved one has become frail or ill to the point where they need around-the-clock attention and care, a nursing home is the right senior living environment for them. Nursing homes provide access to high-quality, skilled nursing care 24 hours a day, seven days a week-meaning that your loved one is never far from advanced medical care if and when they need it. Residents in nursing homes, then, are often struggling with medical issues that need that level of attention, or require so much assistance with day-to-day tasks that they can't really live independently in any way. Unlike assisted living communities, residents do not have their own private apartments: instead, they have a smaller hospital-like room-often shared with another resident-where they can easily receive necessary nursing care.
As you can see from reading the descriptions above, each of these senior living scenarios is more hands-on than the last. Independent living communities provide little to no day-to-day assistance beyond housekeeping, and no immediate access to medical care; nursing homes provide comprehensive assistance and round-the-clock medical care. Because the services provided in each environment become gradually more in-depth as you move up the ladder, the prices also climb. Assisted living communities are more expensive than independent living communities or in-home care arrangements, while nursing homes are more expensive than assisted living.
Not included on this list are options for end-of-life care, be they hospital-based or hospice. Prices and services for hospice care especially can run a range, since hospice can be provided both in the home and at a dedicated facility. The goal for hospice care, though, is to make the patient as comfortable as possible in their final days or hours of life. Medications and medical procedures are given and conducted with the goal of improving comfort instead of extending life. Usually, elderly patients will progress into hospice or hospital care from the nursing home and on the recommendation of medical professionals, so you shouldn't need to worry about making that difficult decision just yet.
Ultimately, where your elderly family member belongs will depend on their age, their level of fitness, and their overall health of both body and mind. If you aren't sure which senior living option is right for them, consult a medical professional to get an expert recommendation.