Understanding the difference between long-term care options

November 5, 2019 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD
long-term care

Maybe you’re exploring long-term care options for you and your spouse or partner in the future. Or perhaps your parents’ health situation has changed and they can no longer safely live by themselves. Once you start researching your options, you may realize that making this decision is more complicated than you thought. There are many different settings and types of care available and finding the right fit takes time. By understanding the difference between the types of care available, you’ll be better able to make the best decision for you and your family.

What are your long-term care options?

Researchers at the Department of Health and Human Services project that more than half of Americans who are now reaching the age of 65 will need some type of long-term care as they get older, so it’s helpful to start learning about the available options before that need arises if possible. Long-term care options include:

Staying home: One option is to remain in the home and bring support services to the person who needs care. This often works better for people who don’t need care for a complex health condition, but even those with serious health problems like heart failure and advanced cancer may be able to stay at home with the right level of support. Start by talking with your doctor about what type of care you need to safely stay in your home. To start, you may need to make some physical changes to your home, like adding ramps, grab bars, or a stair lift.

There are several different types of in-home care. You can find out what type of support is available in your community by checking online resources including Longtermcare.gov and your state or city’s Department of Aging. A geriatric care manager may also be able to help you find care resources and build an at-home long-term care plan.

Care options include:

  • Aides can provide companionship and help with tasks like shopping, cooking, errands, housecleaning, personal care, and medication reminders.
  • If you need nursing care, look for skilled nursing care providers.
  • If you or your loved one wishes to stay home at the end of life, in-home hospice care can provide support for you and your family.

 Independent living community: These communities work well for older people who aren’t living with complex health problems, although if you develop health issues once you live in an independent living community, you can hire an aide or skilled nursing care to provide support. The benefit of these communities is that they offer a feeling of community and a range of activities that residents can take part in, so there’s less risk of feeling isolated than there may be if you stay in your home.

Assisted living community: This can be a good choice for people who can no longer live independently. Assisted living provides 24-hour supervision in a home-like setting as well as help with all the activities of daily living and medication management. Most assisted living communities also provide residents with social activities, gatherings, and events.

Memory care: People with advanced Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia need specialized care and support. Memory care is offered by some continuing care retirement communities, assisted living communities, and nursing homes. If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, check to see if the care setting you’re considering offers memory care services so that you won’t need to find a new long-term care community as the condition progresses.

Nursing home or skilled nursing center: These centers provide 24-hour care delivered by specially trained and licensed nurses in addition to help with daily activities such as dressing, bathing, eating, and moving from place to place. Residents in these care settings also receive physical, speech, and occupational therapy if needed. Some provide care specially tailored for people who have had a stroke or who have neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease. Residents also have the opportunity to take part in social events at the center such as special meals, movies, and game nights.

Once you’ve decided what type of long-term care is most appropriate for you or your loved one, it’s important to visit the communities you’re considering to make sure they’re clean, safe, and treat all residents with respect and dignity. Seeing the communities first-hand can play a big role in your decision making.