What is Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Long-Term Care?

Understand the Differences to Find the Right Care Center for Your Elderly Loved One

If you’re the primary caregiver to an aging parent, you may be overwhelmed by the responsibility it takes to make care decisions. Perhaps your parent has had an accident, has fallen, or has other long-standing health issues. You’re not sure how best to care for them AND simultaneously keep up with your own responsibilities with work, family life, and home. Perhaps it’s time to find a caring, friendly, safe senior living home for Mom or Dad.

In this article we’ll cover the five main options for senior living and give you some key factors to consider for each one as you determine the best option for your loved one.

Independent Living

Independent living (apartments or stand-alone houses) is an exclusive residential housing option for people 55 years and up. The housing is specially designed with the aging in mind, offering simplified navigation and easy access to common services and features.

To make life easier – and a main attraction for independent living – residents can have others take care of fix-it jobs, heavy lifting, yard work, general upkeep, and other maintenance chores. Some even offer basic needs like meals, laundry services, and housecleaning, which residents can opt for at their own preference.

The purpose of independent living is to extend your loved one’s independence and daily routine for as long as possible. In addition, most independent living neighborhoods offer fun activities in the community, such as clubs, spas, movie nights, get-togethers, classes, and crafts. Residents aren’t forced into seclusion; they have many opportunities to socialize and make friends.

How to Tell If Independent Living is Right for You

Independent living:

  • doesn’t take away any of the independence of the individual
  • residents have their own privacy and living space
  • residents can typically take care of themselves
  • does not include nurses or medical help of any sort

Residents can hire in-home care or home health care if they want/need. If you or your loved one needs some type of medical attention, you’ll want to take this into consideration.

Assisted Living

Assisted living is an option for seniors who can take care of some of their needs, but require some medical attention and help with daily living. They may need help with basic hygiene such as bathing, dressing, eating, shopping, and other daily necessities like medication management, making phone calls, and transportation. The staff takes care of almost all daily chores like meal planning, laundry, and house cleaning.

Assisted living can be more affordable than a nursing home, but in comparison has limitations to the types of care it can offer. Assisted living residents have 24-hour security and access to a number of medical services.

Assisted living comes in a wide variety of options. Typically, residents have either a studio or a 1-2 bedroom apartment. Community size ranges from at least 20 residents to hundreds, so individuals can decide how large a community they prefer.

Assisted living is not the same as a nursing home. Those in a nursing home typically need around-the-clock nursing support, while those in assisted living are somewhat independent, but may need some medical attention and help with personal care, meals, laundry, and housekeeping.

How to Tell If Assisted Living is Right for You

Assisted living residents:

  • can walk and take care of some personal needs
  • require medical attention
  • need assistance with basic needs

Enhanced Assisted Living

Enhanced assisted living, offers the same advantages as assisted living but with additional medical services, equipment, and amenities. Residents can take advantage of additional medical equipment to help with being transferred to a chair, the shower, or a bed. They also get more focused attention for mealtime and personal care.

Most enhanced living residences offer minimal services but can extend their capabilities to accommodate those who need help with feeding, transferring, and personal care. The purpose is to provide a place where the elderly can stay long-term even as they age and their needs change, perhaps becoming more dependent on others for basic necessities. Enhanced living avoids the need for your loved one to move often.

How to Tell If Enhanced Assisted Living is Right for You

Those who qualify for enhanced living need:

  • extended medical attention
  • additional equipment to be transferred to a chair, bed, tub, etc.
  • continued help with personal care and eating meals

Those who tend to wander or put their safety or the safety of others into question, might need a more secure facility than enhanced assisted.

Memory Care

Many assisted living residences and some nursing homes contain a special memory care unit (SCU) in a private wing from the main building. Memory care facilities have specially trained staff who know how to care for those suffering with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other types of impaired cognitive abilities. These special memory care facilities have staff specifically trained to care for residents with progressive impairment. Residents receive around the clock supervision, medication management, and assistance with daily tasks.

Memory care facilities include a simplified floor plan to reduce confusion, an emergency nurse call system, and specialized medical attention. All basic necessities like housekeeping, meals, laundry, transportation, social activities, and health programs are included as well.

Because memory care facilities have specialized health standards, they can be more expensive than assisted living or other housing options.

How to Tell If Memory Care is Right for You

Your loved one may need memory care if:

  • their condition evokes complex needs for basic services
  • they need specialized attention 24/7
  • their condition is rapidly progressing

If your loved one doesn’t exhibit extreme dementia or Alzheimer’s and is still fairly independent, then assisted living is probably suitable.

Skilled Nursing

Skilled nursing facilities, also called long term care facilities and nursing homes, are equipped to offer 24-hour in-depth medical care with proper equipment and professional medical staff, such as registered nurses and a physician who serves as medical director. They coordinate with a nearby hospital in case a resident needs to be transferred for emergency care, rehabilitation, or restoration. The staff is qualified for injections, physical therapy, and other tasks non-professionals aren’t trained to do.

You can choose from a variety of long term care facilities. Some are more institutional and hospital-like. These tend to be large with hundreds of residents in buildings spanning multiple stories. Others strive to create a more homey environment and can be situated in a large old home with just a handful of residents. Some leading nursing homes are designed to be more like a private resort, offering residents and their families the opportunity to live a fuller, more dignified life.

How to Tell If Skilled Nursing is Right for You

Skilled nursing facilities can care for a variety of residents, each with individual needs, such as:

  • residents are not able to take care of themselves independently
  • 24-hour rehabilitative care while recovering from injury, surgery or illness
  • 24-hour long-term nursing care
  • 24-hour support for personal care and daily living
  • Specialized attention for complex needs
  • a place to live and receive around-the-clock care for a limited time during rehabilitation or for the rest of their life

Skilled nursing facilities accommodate each of these needs.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re still unsure which kind of care facility your loved one needs, we strongly recommend you consult with a trusted medical professional. However, if you know what type of facility is needed, we recommend touring different options until you find the perfect one that feels right to you and your loved one. Download this checklist we created to help you along your search.