Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes: Which Senior Care Service Do You Need?
Senior care is something that you should consider before you really need it. Having a plan earlier in life will help you prepare. It is reassuring to know what will happen when you need more assistance. This will also give you greater flexibility when figuring out how to finance life care.
One of the common mistakes younger people make before they begin planning is assuming that there aren’t many options available. The words “assisted living” and “nursing home” are often used interchangeably by those outside of the industry. They are two different services.
Before you decide to put off retirement planning for a few more years, consider the many reasons to do it now. Those who have their senior care plans in place earlier in life gain many benefits.
- Navigate Medical Care Options – Life care planning in advance will allow you to choose the best medical care options. Doing it now before you need them will make the process easier and allow you to make decisions that cover all your current and potential future needs.
- Manage Transition-Related Stress – Transitioning from complete independence to senior care can be difficult for seniors. A part of your plan should include services to help you during this time, like anxiety counseling.
- Have a Plan for Incapacity – Seniors are at a higher risk of becoming incapacitated due to illness or injury. These things happen when you don’t expect them to, so having a plan now will ensure that your needs and preferences are met.
- Effective Estate Planning – It’s much easier to handle estate planning when you have your financial obligations worked out. Effective estate planning also helps keep administrative costs down.
- Prepare for Long-Term Care – Long-term care needs can change as we age. Planning now will allow you to prepare for what may come later. If you know you have a higher risk of certain conditions like dementia, you can include plans for the right level of care to handle it before you need it.
Anyone who is planning their life care needs to have a good understanding of the differences between nursing homes and assisted living communities. Each can offer a good solution if you need the level of care they provide.
What Is Assisted Living Care?
Assisted living provides seniors with a personalized level of care. These communities allow residents to live as independently as possible while giving them convenient access to services and support on-site. It is a good way to bridge the gap between living completely independently and moving into a more care-intensive facility.
According to the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), there are over 835,000 people in assisted living communities across the country.
Assisted living accommodations are usually residential in design but with amenities and floor plans that cater to the needs of seniors. The focus is to help residents retain as much independence as possible. Facilities can adjust support and services based on the resident’s changing needs.
What Are Nursing Homes?
Nursing homes are sometimes also referred to as skilled nursing facilities. These places provide a broad range of healthcare services. They are intended for seniors who don’t need hospitalization but also can’t stay at home due to their medical needs.
Some nursing homes provide services that are similar to a hospital, but there are also clear differences. Hospitals try to find cures and treatments while nursing homes do not. Nursing home residents also don’t see doctors as frequently as they would in a hospital.
Hospital patients are only meant to remain there for a short time, usually until their illness or injury is cured or temporarily remedied. Nursing homes are meant for long-term care with many residents remaining there permanently.
Just like assisted living, nursing homes have staff that try to build relationships with residents to provide better care.
Senior Care Living Space Comparison
Assisted living and nursing homes have different approaches when it comes to living spaces.
- Assisted Living Residences
Assisted living communities offer residents individual or shared apartments. These feel like a residence with living rooms, bedrooms, and even kitchens. Some provide accommodations that are already furnished. They usually look and feel like someone’s home.
Communal spaces are available that allow residents to gather. These usually include dining rooms, game rooms, or living rooms. These are often used for events, gatherings, and groups and can be left open for general use by the community.
Assisted living communities usually have an outdoor space that residents can utilize. This could be a yard or green space, patio, or deck. Some also have garden beds, lawn furniture, and other outdoor luxuries for residents to use.
The number of seniors in an assisted living community can vary. Some are very small and may have as few as five residents while others can be much larger with 300 or more. The average assisted living community size is around 50 residents.
- Nursing Home Rooms
Nursing homes offer private or shared rooms. They usually have some common spaces, although may not have as many as an assisted living community. They also usually have a more clinical environment, like a hospital.
Nursing home rooms do not include living rooms or kitchens. They are more focused on medical needs rather than independent living.
Residents in nursing homes require more care and attention, which is why these places usually don’t have an outdoor space that residents can access.
Families and residents can decorate nursing home rooms to make them feel comfortable and inviting. There may be limitations as far as what can be brought in. Just like assisted living, most facilities will allow residents to bring in small pieces of furniture, if space allows.
Most nursing homes have an average of 100 residents, but some have fewer.
How Will I Pay for My Senior Care?
One of the biggest concerns some people have when planning senior care is how they will pay for services. It looks like a lot of money, but it’s also important to remember that you won’t have all the extra bills you likely do now. Monthly fees usually include utilities, food, and more.
Paying out of pocket is always an option for either type of facility. If you are like many others and can’t afford the bill upfront, you may have other payment options. Available financing will depend on the facility you need.
- Assisted Living Costs and Financing
The cost of assisted living will vary significantly from one community to another. Most cost around $4,000 per month. You may also have the option of an all-inclusive stay that covers everything or a fee-for-service arrangement.
Fee-for-service means you can choose to skip certain services to save money, like transportation and housekeeping. Seniors who can handle housework or still drive may not need these services.
Most residents pay for their stay out of pocket. Others use VA pensions or Medicaid if their state allows it.
It is best to start saving early so you have more options when choosing an assisted living facility. Some seniors use life insurance or long-term care insurance to pay for services. Selling property is another common option. Most seniors will no longer need their homes when they move into assisted living, so it makes sense to sell and use the proceeds to fund their stay.
- Nursing Home Costs and Financing
Nursing home costs also vary however many are approximately $7,441 per month. The cost is higher because residents have more demanding care needs and can do less on their own.
You can always cover the bill with personal funds the same way you would with assisted living. However, most residents rely on Medicaid. To use the program, beneficiaries must spend down their own assets before they can receive coverage.
Some residents also use funds from stocks and pensions. Seniors who are liquidating their assets but need immediate care may use a bridge loan. This is a short-term loan that is meant to pay for the move while the resident frees up funds to repay the loan by selling property.
What Senior Medical Services Are Included?
Medical care is an important factor to consider when moving into assisted living or a nursing home. Each offers a different level of service in this area.
- Assisted Living Medical Care
Since assisted living homes are more residential and less hospital, they offer fewer medical services than nursing homes.
Most provide medication management as well as assistance for activities of daily living. Most also provide licensed nursing services that are usually available on a schedule with registered and/or licensed practical nurses available on call. These medical professionals may not be present 24 hours a day.
Assisted living communities may partner with other medical services. For example, a home health agency may come in and provide outpatient therapy multiple times a week for residents.
Assisted living staff will also have less medical training compared to workers in a nursing home. Most should be at least trained in first aid and CPR. The state health department may offer training programs that take place at facilities. You should consult the assisted living community you are considering to learn more about their medical services and staff training practices.
- Nursing Home Medical Care
Nursing homes also provide medication management and activities of daily living support. However, they also offer skilled nursing and limited medical treatment. This can include physical, occupational, and speech therapy.
Most have a nurses’ station on each floor. Many either employ or have contracts with doctors or medical groups. These doctors will make regular visits to the nursing home for evaluations and treatments.
Nursing homes are also required to have a medical director who is a licensed doctor. This person is responsible for managing relationships between staff, residents, and visiting doctors.
You should speak to the nursing home that you are considering to find out how employees are trained and what medical professionals are available on-site.
What Non-Medical Services Are Included?
Non-medical services are also important. These are the services that make living in a senior community more convenient. Some are luxuries while others are necessary for people who can no longer drive.
- Assisted Living Non-Medical Services
Assisted living homes tend to have a longer list of non-medical services. These include housekeeping, meals, and laundry as well as recreational activities. Most facilities also provide transportation either as part of the monthly fee or at an additional cost. Some host trips off-site that let residents go out and see the community.
Residents will have access to more things to do, like classes, crafts, fitness groups, events, and clubs.
Other services can include beauty salons and barbershops as well as libraries, art studios, swimming pools, spas, and private event spaces. Some have communal gardens or courtyards or even movie theaters. Faith-based assisted living communities may also provide religious facilities like a chapel.
Each assisted living home has a list of non-medical services it provides. You should check with local communities to see which location offers the services you want.
- Nursing Home Non-Medical Services
Nursing homes also provide basic non-medical services like meals, housekeeping, and laundry. However, they will likely have a more limited list of recreational options.
They may not have the salon and barbershop services but may have a local business that comes in to provide these services at scheduled times.
Most nursing homes will still try to build a sense of community with group activities. They may host games like Bingo or special events for holidays. Some even have charity events, picnics, and craft sessions. However, they usually have fewer recreational services available overall compared to assisted living.
How Does the Social Life Differ in Senior Care?
Socializing is important for seniors. A University of Texas study found that seniors with active social lives tend to be happier and more emotionally healthy. These benefits help lead to a longer life with fewer health problems.
Both assisted living and nursing homes are communities of seniors, which creates the potential for social opportunities that aren’t usually as accessible to people aging in place.
- Assisted Living Social Life
Assisted living focuses on independence, with most facilities providing ample opportunity to socialize. Residents can dine, play games, or exercise together. Most also have clubs for different interests.
The facility may schedule trips to local businesses or attractions that residents can enjoy together. Most also have events calendars that show all upcoming social gatherings.
Assisted living residents will have a greater level of independence, which gives them more ways to go out and participate in events and recreation.
- Nursing Home Social Life
Nursing homes usually have fewer social opportunities. However, they still place seniors close to their peers. Neighbors can get to know one another and expand their social circle.
Most facilities also host on-site activities and events. These can range from dinners to classes, fitness groups, and game nights.
Memory Care vs. Nursing Home
Memory care provides a specialized senior housing solution for people with cognitive decline. Some assisted living communities offer a memory care unit for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease along with their standard accommodations.
These units are usually locked down to prevent wandering. They will likely have a greater level of services and support compared to the rest of the assisted living community.
Memory care may feel more like a nursing home, but there are differences. Both have 24-hour care and supervision. Both provide access to basic services like meals, housekeeping, and assistance with activities of daily living.
However, memory care is different because it is designed for people with memory loss. Activities are usually chosen based on patient needs.
Both nursing homes and assisted living can have memory care facilities. These are appealing to seniors who may need memory care in the future, but do not yet. Residents can receive the support they need now and then transition to the specialized facility when the time comes without having to move to a new community.
Do I Need Assisted Living or a Nursing Home?
If you need senior care now, you will have to first decide which type of facility is best for you. Assisted living is ideal for people who:
- Require some personal care
- Can walk around on their own
- Are willing to accept assistance
- Want to remain independent
Nursing homes may be a better option for those who need more attention and medical care. These facilities are ideal for people who:
- Require extensive personal care
- Cannot move without assistance
- Need medical care daily
- Are resistant to receiving care
- Have severe cognitive impairments
What If I Am Looking for Senior Care for Someone Else?
Looking for senior care for someone you love can be a difficult and emotional process. It’s important to be honest and upfront about their mobility and health status when choosing the right place.
You should speak to your loved one to hear their thoughts and concerns about the move. Find out what’s important to them. Are there certain services or activities that they would like or need? Is the location convenient for family or friends to visit? Can the facility handle all their care needs?
When you have a few locations in mind, consider taking a tour. Most facilities will allow potential residents and their families to stop by and see what the community is like before agreeing to move in.
If you have questions about senior living, let us know. Visit MD Senior Living now to learn more about our luxury physician-managed assisted living homes in Scottsdale, AZ.
I never knew that you could use senior care services to look after your aging relative as they grow weaker. I like the idea of leaving them in the hands of skilled caretakers so that you wouldn’t have to worry about them all the time. My boss can probably use this information so he can pursue his dream of becoming a novelist in the future.