Assisted Living: Not a Nursing Home

assisted living

As more baby boomers age into retirement, many will be making decisions about where they spend their golden years. For some, aging at home is appealing, while for others, moving into assisted living is preferable so they have help when they need it, without all the housekeeping chores. If you’re starting to consider your options, keep in mind that the terms “assisted living” and “nursing home” are often used interchangeably when, in fact, they are very different, not only in services but in cost. Here’s a look at what to consider when choosing between assisted living and a nursing home.

How Assisted Living Differs From a Nursing Home

Support Versus Care

Although the lines between assisted living and a nursing home often appear blurred, one way to separate them is: assisted living provides support; nursing homes provide care. For example, if you’re lonely but also mobile and in good health, you will likely want to live where you can make new friends and have a little fun. Assisted living facilities are filled with people to meet, organized activities and trips to choose from. Not to mention your meals will be prepared and provided.

But most assisted living facilities are not licensed or qualified to provide nursing care, only day-to-day assistance like that which might be provided by a friend or family member. In some cases, assisted living facilities may provide limited health care assistance (such as dispensing medications) through an outside contractor that provides licensed care on an as-needed basis for an additional fee.

Conversely, if you have a physical or mental condition that requires ongoing medical care, a nursing home should be your choice. In Michigan, nursing facilities are defined by law and include:

  • “An intermediate (or basic nursing) care facility.
  • A skilled nursing facility.
  • An intermediate care facility/developmentally disabled.
  • A nursing facility for the care of mentally ill patients.
  • A nursing facility for the care of developmentally disabled patients.
  • A nursing facility for the care of tuberculosis patients.”

The level of care in a nursing home far exceeds that of assisted living facilities and includes hands-on help with every aspect of personal hygiene as needed, providing clean bedding and laundry services, help with dressing and undressing, managing and dispensing medications, and additional services to those who are bedridden.

In addition, nursing home facilities also assess each patient’s medical needs, identify health problems, develop a written plan for care or intervention, implement the care plan, and evaluate the results of the care or intervention.

Your Health is No. 1

The key to choosing the best option for you is to take a step back and look at your health, because the greatest difference between assisted living and a nursing home is the level of medical care you will receive to live happily and safely. Among the many things you could ask yourself are:

  • Are you able to take care of your everyday living needs like dressing, grooming, using the toilet, eating, and getting up from a sitting position?
  • Do you have a debilitating and/or chronic condition that requires medical assistance (e.g., insulin injections, a wound that won’t heal, etc.)
  • Do you have trouble with balance or have you fallen recently?
  • Do you have a disease or condition that will worsen over time (like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease)?

Each of these scenarios can tip the scale one way or the other but the most important thing is to be honest with yourself about your true health needs. Once you have done this you can begin looking at what each option has to offer you in your situation. For a thorough look at how to differentiate your needs, has a self-assessment checklist to help.

Due Diligence Pays

When you get to the point in your life when you desire a change or require help, take the time to investigate your options. If possible, get help from a friend or family member whose judgement you trust and make appointments to tour local facilities. Be honest when you define your wants and needs, and trust your instincts. The best similarities between both assisted living and nursing homes are that they’re always clean, always cheerfully staffed, and will not pressure you. If you’re still having trouble choosing, make your decision based on how many smiles you see on the faces of people who live there. Happy people are the best indicator of quality.

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