Assisted Living vs Skilled Nursing
The decision to move from the home you’re used to into a home where you can receive more care is already an incredibly difficult one for most seniors and their loved ones to make. No one likes the idea of trading their own home and independence for a more crowded, regimented and institutional setting, but not all seniors can manage to stay in their own homes until the end of their lives.
If making the decision to move itself is difficult, knowing whether to go with an assisted living or nursing home is no easier. It often seems simple, because nursing home abuses of the last century managed to give the whole industry a bad reputation. But not all nursing homes deserve that reputation and many seniors who choose assisted living homes find themselves having to move soon because they actually need the level of care offered at a nursing home.
The Main Differences Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes
Assisted living homes provide services like meals, housekeeping, transportation and help with basic activities of daily living like getting dressed and bathing. What they don’t provide is 24-hour care or medical supervision. While assisted living homes typically have registered nurses and/or doctors come in for visits to check on residents, they’re not required to have staff members with medical licenses. And they’re not regulated by the federal government.
What they do offer is a higher level of independence for seniors who don’t require the level of medical care provided at a nursing home, but do still need help with things like getting dressed or taking care of daily meals.
Nursing homes, in contrast, make medical care a central component of what they offer. They are required to have medical staff available at all times and are subject to laws and regulations from the government on the quality of care provided. Private rooms are less common in nursing homes and they do sometimes have a more institutional feel, which accounts for a lot of the resistance to choosing a nursing home over assisted living, even when it may be the more appropriate choice for a senior’s needs.
How to Choose Between The Two
Nothing about assisted living homes or nursing homes makes one the inherently better option. Which one is best for you or your loved one depends entirely on your particular health issues and needs, and what’s available in your area.
Fortunately, we can offer a few tips to help you make a better decision.
1. Think long term.
We can’t see the future so there’s no way to completely know where you or your loved one will be in 1-3 years, but do talk to your doctor about what kind of symptoms and issues they expect will be coming in the near future. If you only need a little bit of help now, but you’ll very likely need 24-hour medical care within a couple of years, then going through the difficult process of moving and making friends in an assisted living facility probably doesn’t make sense. If you move straight to a nursing home now, you can establish the community you’ll be a part of for the years to come and be able to settle in knowing this is really home.
2. Know the real cost.
Don’t assume the listed cost is what you’ll be paying. If a home that seems to cost a lot takes your insurance or Medicare/Medicaid, you could ultimately end up saving a lot of money going with them. You may also find the listed price doesn’t cover everything you need. If you choose an assisted living home where certain types of care are treated as an add-on cost, you could end up paying much more than expected.
Ideally, cost won’t be the main consideration for the home you choose to go with, but be careful not to make a rash decision based on price without making sure you understand the full implications. Be prepared to ask lots of questions and do lots of research to make sure you really know what you’ll be paying.
3. Pay attention to the details of individual locations.
Some assisted living homes provide more medical care than others, or work on a tiered continuing care model that makes it easy for a senior to move from the assisted living section of the community into the skilled nursing home part when the time comes. You may find that there’s a comfortable, suitable assisted living home nearby that meets all your needs (and your expected needs for the next few years). Or you may find a nursing home in your area that has the comfortable feel of home you’re looking for.
Don’t assume you know exactly what to expect from a place because of the labels. Research all of your nearby options, visit the ones that look the best to you, and ask lots of questions. Find out if the assisted living home you’re considering is familiar with the types of care you need, and how long residents usually stay before moving into a nursing home. And talk to residents of the nursing home you check out about whether they’re lonely or feel they don’t get enough privacy.
Finding the right senior living home is all about knowing what you need and want, then doing the research to find the option that comes closest to meeting your requirements and preferences.