Assisted Living

12/28/2022 | By Kari Smith

When an older adult needs help with aspects of daily life, it may be time to look at community options. This sets up the question, what level of care does the individual need – possibly assisted care or nursing care?

The decision to move a loved one into senior care can be difficult and emotional. It can also be confusing and complex to navigate the different levels of care available. It’s often a difficult balance to maintain sufficient care and supervision while still maintaining as much independence as possible. For those seniors who need a bit more care getting through each day, assisted care or nursing care are the options to consider.

Understanding the differences between assisted care and nursing care may give you a better idea of which type of retirement community is best for you or your loved one. As you explore these differences, it’s helpful to recognize the person’s grasp of the activities of daily living, i.e., ADLs and IADLs – reference the article “What Are ADLs and IADLs?” for more information.

Understanding the differences

The nutshell difference in the two levels of care is that assisted living helps with non-medical needs and nursing care helps with medical – “nursing” – needs. Each level offers variations – sometimes based on the facilities – so we explain the most common.

Assisted care

If you feel that your loved one is sometimes unsafe, needs help with basic activities, or is isolated without friends or loved ones close by to help with daily tasks, it may be time to consider assisted care.

1. Assisted living

Consider the ADLs: feeding, dressing, grooming, personal hygiene, ambulating, continence, and toileting. If your loved one needs help in three or more of these areas, they may need assisted care. This level of care provides regular meals, medication management, and social activities while still allowing residents some independence.

2. Residential care homes

For round-the-clock care in a more intimate setting, consider residential care. These communities are often in an actual single-family dwelling. Residential care is often referred to as “family care” because the environment is more like a home, with fewer residents (usually 2 – 6). By nature, they can offer more personalized service.

Whether the layout resembles a condominium community, a dormitory-like setting, or an entire complex, it will likely have accessible areas for those with mobility issues and common areas for socialization and planned activities.

Do your research to find the facility that works best for your needs, as communities can vary widely.

Nursing care

Nurse with resident in nursing care. When an individual needs daily help, consider community options and ask what level of care is best: possibly assisted care or nursing care.

Your loved one may need a higher level of supervision and medical care. If so, nursing care offers a safer option – long-term care, memory care, rehabilitation, or a skilled nursing facility. These facilities offer on a consistent routine and tailor the setting for residents’ needs.

1. Long-term care

A long-term care community is an umbrella term for any community that provides 24-hour care on a long-term basis. Residents are assisted with ADLs, medication management, as well as housekeeping, daily meals, and planned activities. This care can also be provided in home.

2. Memory care

Patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may be best served in a freestanding memory care facility, or as an additional service at an assisted care facility like those described above. Patients suffering with memory issues may not be safe when left alone as they may forget to do tasks like turn off an oven or may wander off and get lost and disoriented. If your loved one has significant memory loss, a memory care community may be best for them.

Memory care focuses on the safety of its patients, which means that staff-to-patient ratios are higher and areas are often secured to keep residents from wandering off and getting lost. Daily activities include exercises that address the unique needs of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, such as music therapy, puzzles, games, and comforting familiar activities.

3. Rehabilitation care

When an individual needs temporary assistance, such as after an injury, illness, fall, or stroke, rehabilitation care provide the answer. This temporary program seeks to restore a patient to full health, to prepare them to return to their previous level of independence or care. Some inpatient rehab centers focus only on rehabilitation, but this type of specialized care is also offered in assisted living, nursing care, and long-term care facilities.

4. Skilled nursing care

For those patients whose needs require more constant medical treatment and supervision, skilled nursing offers a level of care by a registered nurse who monitors residents’ health. If your loved one needs daily medical care long-term, this may be the best option.

While the options may seem confusing, there are many resources available to help you determine what level of care is right for each individual. Once you determine what level of care is needed, tour available options to learn more about each facility’s cost, care level, amenities, and social activities. When you think of your loved one’s new home, you want to picture them in a place where they will thrive and find as much stimulation and socialization – and as much relaxation and peace – as they need.

Take a free Care Assessment for an answer tailored to your needs

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith