Assisted Living vs. Skilled Nursing: What’s the Difference?
So you’ve decided your loved one needs long-term care beyond what you can offer at home. That’s a difficult enough decision to make, but now you have to figure out which option is the best one for their needs. That just opens up a whole new bag of worms.
Two of the main options you have to consider are assisted living homes and skilled nursing facilities. The primary difference between the two is actually pretty simple[K1] :
- Assisted living facilities offer more independence to residents, but don’t have full-time medical professionals on staff.
- Skilled nursing facilities will have skilled nurses on staff every day of the week, sometimes 24 hours a day.
That’s the general rub of things, but here’s a more detailed breakdown of the differences.
Most senior veterans are going to prefer assisted living if the choice is presented to them – no one wants to give up more freedom than they have to. But many families hold off on admitting that a loved one needs long-term care until it’s too late for assisted living to be practical. If your loved one really needs the level of care provided by a skilled nursing facility (or will within the year), then you don’t want to choose an assisted living home only to have to move all over again in a matter of months.
How to Decide Between Assisted Living and a Nursing Home
First, you need to understand what each option has to offer.
Assisted living homes typically provide:
- Reminders of when to take your medicine
- Recreational activities and amenities
- Help with daily activities like getting dressed and bathing
At many assisted living homes, some of these services may cost extra.
The goal of assisted living homes is to provide seniors with the level of care they need without limiting their independence any more than necessary. But once a senior starts to need more extensive medical care, an assisted living home won’t cut it any more.
Skilled nursing facilities offer services like meals and housekeeping, but add to that skilled medical staff that are consistently on hand to respond to any medical needs a resident has. On the plus side, they provide a higher level of care. On the minus side, they often feel more institutional and seniors will have less leeway to live their life on their own terms. They also cost more – keeping trained staff on hand and adhering to the regulations they’re required to maintain means they cost more to run and therefore cost residents more to stay there.
Ask a Lot of Questions
Sometimes recognizing your own level of need or that of your loved one is harder for you to do because of how close you are to the situation. It can help to get an outside perspective. Start with your doctor. Ask them which option they recommend for the level of care your loved one needs now. If they say assisted living care should work for now, then ask if them if they have an educated guess for when that might change.
Then move on to talking to the staff of the local senior living options available to you. Research the senior living facilities in your area that look the most promising and explain to the staff your loved one’s current status. Find out what they think. And be sure to ask what forms of payment they take. Many veterans will have a mix of options available to help them pay for care – Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care insurance and the Aid and Attendance benefit should all be considered. Find out what each home accepts so you can get a clear idea of what you’ll be paying.
Weigh your loved one’s needs and their desires against your available options. The choice they need may not be the one they like best, but all veterans understand that sometimes you have to make hard choices.
When you find the home that’s right for your loved one, do all you can to ease the transition and make sure they still have plenty of time with their family. They may balk at the change at first, but seeing that their loved ones still make a point of being an active part of their life will help make the transition easier.