Assisted Living vs Other Senior Care Options
Learn how Assisted Living Communities compare with Nursing Homes, Skilled Nursing, Memory Care, Independent Living, supportive living, palliative care, and more.
Due to cultural shifts in language, some terms that used to be commonplace have gone by the wayside. At times, “those of a certain age” can’t help but chuckle when informed of a new term. Invoke the phrase, “roll up the window” in your car and more than you might expect will give you a stare back, trying to figure out how anyone would “roll” a window! However, some new terms really do assist in helping to discern important differences. The latter is certainly true when an entire plethora of lifestyles and services are provided for seniors but get lumped into a single pot that has the characteristics of stew, more so than an entrée. The truth is far from that, and that’s great news for anyone seeking the best setting to open up a new chapter of life. In this article, we will take a look at the differences between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes, Skilled Nursing, Memory Care, Independent Living and many other support and care options.
Assisted Living vs Nursing Home
Perhaps more than any other term, “Nursing Home” conjures up a negative mental image. While this blanket term might have been valid when today’s seniors were in grade school, it has very little to do with the levels of need, care, comfort, and professionalism afforded today. So, let’s start to uncover the differences.
“Nursing Home” is often used as a general term, but is falling by the wayside with “retirement home” and “rest home.” A Nursing Home is really only a care location used by those when private pay is not an option. In these circumstances, the majority is covered by Medicaid. When a senior needs professional physical and non-specialized medical assistance, Assisted Living is usually the best option.
What is the Difference Between Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing?
“Skilled Nursing” or a “Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF)” is often referred to as a Nursing Home, though it is different from it and from Assisted Living.
What is Short-Term Care?
A SNF provides specialized care for medical rehabilitation and treatment, for a temporary period of time. This type of location is an intermediate care facility where a person will receive high-quality, short-term care.
Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing vs. Long-Term Care
Today, a “Nursing Home” provides skilled care, but for those in need of long-term care. For example, it will include those with Stage 2 (ulcerated or open) wounds or greater, and residents who need ventilators, feeding tubes, etc. In short, a Nursing Home employs staff who are licensed medical professionals and on-site 24/7. As mentioned, the other main difference is that Nursing Home costs are able to largely be covered by Medicaid. Only a portion of Skilled Nursing can be covered by Medicaid and Assisted Living is a private pay proposition only. There are also differences across care regarding other governmental programs like Medicare. You can learn more in our article “What is the Difference Between Medicare and Medicaid?”
Speaking of Assisted Living, this is a type of support community where residents are assisted with activities of daily living (ADLs) and do not require skilled and licensed, around-the-clock medical care. Hence the term “assisted,” is a better descriptor here, rather than when reliance on staff is called for to sustain life with specialized care.
If a senior doesn’t have a skilled care need and can pay privately, most often the best choice would be to choose an Assisted Living Community. The senior or family would almost certainly be paying a higher price for a Nursing Home if they paid for both privately. Assisted Living also offers a more homelike environment, whereas Nursing Homes have more clinical accommodation with 2-3 people in a room with a shower curtain in-between.
What is Supportive Living?
Supportive living, also known as supportive housing, is another care term that is often confused with both Assisted Living and Nursing Homes. This is a type of community where residents receive personal care and socialization, but through a governmental waiver program. It is generally an alternative program to a Nursing Home where low-income seniors can receive the support they need at a cost or rate that is subsidized.
These types of communities also have services and amenities that are somewhat related to what is found in Assisted Living. They may include housekeeping, daily meal plans, ADL support, and transportation. However, a supportive living community may provide far fewer options than what is included in an Assisted Living Community where private pay is used.
Assisted Living vs Independent Living
Seniors or their families contemplating a living arrangement can often be torn between Assisted Living and Independent Living. However, the decision will largely surround whether any sort of extensive care is necessary. While Independent Living provides direct access to physical and medical support when it is necessary, residents of these communities live independently with minimal assistance, and their primary focus is on socialization and new experiences. These seniors also choose Independent Living to remove the burdens of cleaning a home or performing yard maintenance. Assisted Living residents need more in-depth physical and medical support; they still enjoy community activities and amenities, but with increased living assistance.
Assisted Living vs Senior Living
Often found in this word soup of senior care is the term “senior living” which, you guessed it, can encompass a variety of care and support options. For example, senior living is often referred to as:
- Independent Living – A community-based location where activities, entertainment, dining, housecleaning, and more are enjoyed by residents.
- Senior apartments – Which is truly a community of seniors, but little more. This type of location is income-based, and does not include many of the entertainment or activity options of Independent Living, nor any care found in Assisted Living.
- Retirement communities – These are communities or housing complexes for older adults where they enjoy the company of other community members who are roughly the same age but live in private residences. These types of communities, where community-based care is not found, are also called “active adult communities.”
- Over 55 communities – Residents of these communities are similar to those found in retirement communities but must be over the age of 55, or follow some other age requirement (many require residents to be 62 or older.)
Assisted Living vs Memory Care
Assisted Living and Memory Care are other pairings that are best defined in detail in order to avoid confusion. Memory Care has also been known to be confused with Skilled Nursing. However, Memory Care focuses specifically on cognitive and mental challenges, primarily for residents with Alzheimer's or Dementia.
While Assisted Living combines characteristics of Independent Living with increased physical support and medical care, as well as a certain range of mental health services, residents who live in Memory Care Communities require specialized, long-term care. This is the next step after Assisted Living or a Skilled Nursing Facility are no longer options for the type of care needed. Certain Assisted Living Communities are even designed to make this transition seamless with built-in Memory Care neighborhoods on separate floors that are secured to protect residents from wandering or getting lost.
Assisted Living vs. In-Home Care
Anytime Assisted Living is referenced, it is done so to talk about a community of older adults who need assistance and support. In-home care (commonly broken down as Home Care and Home Health Care) provides some types of similar assistance, but the senior remains in their home, which may seem like a positive, but can actually become difficult over time. This type of care should only be received from an accredited agency.
If extensive care is needed, Home Care is generally only a short-term solution and residents will eventually be encouraged to move to Assisted Living. This happens for a few reasons:
- Home Care/Home Health Care is generally only available for 6-8 hours per day and the senior needs 24/7 care.
- Assisted Living or another community care type provides more services and amenities at a better value.
- There is a desire for socialization with other seniors which isn’t available at home.
Assisted Living vs Hospice and Palliative Care
The terms “hospice care” and “palliative care” are more often recognized when discussing care options. Someone who may have been a resident of an Assisted Living Community or stayed at a Skilled Nursing Facility but now requires specific compassion and comfort will receive one or potentially both of these types of care.
Palliative care, which is covered by Medicare, is focused on providing specialized medical care for those living with serious illnesses, receiving treatment (if possible) to remove certain discomforts, and in some cases, improving symptomatic reactions when used with curative treatments. This type of care is often provided at late stages of life but can be provided early on if disease or cancer is prevalent.
Hospice care is also covered by Medicare, and is truly designed for end-of-life situations. While it shares certain characteristics with palliative care in that attempts are made to provide comfort, hospice care is not used with curative treatment. This type of care is customized for the resident to have time with loved ones and enjoy what remains in the final stage of life.
Hospice and palliative care can be provided in any community setting or at home. Hospice care can also take place in a specialized community, but only if the resident is in an active, imminent decline, and their time left with us is short.
Bear in mind that neither hospice nor palliative care is a true substitute for full-time care. Unless your loved one is living in a specialized hospice-only setting, there will not be someone there 24/7 to provide care. Community-based care where a nurse is available 24/7 is recommended, and can bring great comfort at this challenging time.
Other Types of Senior Care
The list of care and support varieties goes on and on. A few additional types that can be defined outside of the most popular private pay options like Assisted Living and Independent Living and those covered by Medicaid in a Nursing Home, include:
- Group home – Where a group of residents live in separate or two-person dwellings and receive unrelated, usually non-specialized care and services.
- Board & care – A location similar to a group home where a small group of residents (usually 20 or less) live and have access to care, but it is not usually provided on site.
- Residential care – A type of care that is closely related to Home Care or In-Home Care but for a long-term period. This type of care is often much more expensive than the long-term community alternative of Assisted Living.
- Congregate care – This type of care is often found in Assisted Living and even occasionally in Memory Care. Residents who receive congregate care utilize ADL support, medication management, and medical care at checkpoints throughout the day, but they do not need medical care overseen 24/7.
Find a Senior Care Community in Your Area
When it comes to determining the correct type of care, support, and community environment for seniors, each has benefits and limitations. So, what’s the best way to figure out the ideal fit?
Some seniors' situations will make the choice self-evident, either by necessity or preference. But there are others where there may be questions as to which they are best suited to receive. Thankfully, Referah counselors deal with those situations on a daily basis and are not only able but are also eager to render a helping hand when it’s most needed. In the midst of confusion or questions, there’s no substitute for experience, and you’ve chosen the right group to get sound advice. Referah works directly with seniors, their families and (by extension) medical advisors to identify which type of care and support is best. Talk to one of our experts about finding professional care, and start exploring senior living communities today.