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Help Picking the Most Appropriate Type of Senior Housing or Care

Many seniors are able remain in their own homes well beyond the age of retirement. This has become possible because of the wide variety of home caregiver options that are available for seniors and their families, as well as increased awareness of modifying the home for safety.

Yet, many people continue to be unaware of what types of living arrangements are open to seniors. Understanding the difference between housing options can make the decision of where to live easier for both the aging individual and his or her loved ones.

When considering the various types of senior housing keep in mind that there are no standard definitions. For this reason, it is best to list one's own requirements and then find a facility that meets the majority of these needs rather than to attempt to mold one's own needs into the type of facilities that are prevalent.

Selecting appropriate senior housing is never an easy task. Whether you are doing it for yourself or for a family member, the underlying fact is that someone is going to move away from a home or environment that one has known and loved for many years. Apart from this 'uprooting', selecting appropriate senior housing is also difficult due to a number of factors such as the senior's current (and future projected) physical, mental and emotional health.

The most common options for senior housing are:
  • In Home Living - The least restrictive environment for the individual, remaining at home is considered by the majority of seniors to be the most desirable option. As the individual ages, modifications to the living environment can be made to ensure the continued safety of the person and in-home health and care giving services can be employed.

  • Independent Living Communities / Senior Apartments - A living environment in which the individual is self-sufficient and resides within a community where there is little worry about home maintenance and a wide variety of social and recreational activities are offered. This category includes living within one's own home, independent living communities, active senior housing and senior apartments.

  • Assisted Living - Housing for individuals who do not require a great deal of medical care but who may need assistance with daily care such as bathing, dressing, cooking, grooming and transportation. Assisted living can take place within a senior housing community or within the individual's own home with the assistance of outside caregivers including personal care and health care aides, meal delivery services and community transportation services.

  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities - A combination of various types of housing and care facilities that includes independent living housing, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing facilities. Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) are developed so that the individual can remain within the same basic facility during his or her retirement years and continue to receive services that address health and housing needs as he or she ages.

  • Memory care facilities (also referred to Alzheimer's care facilities) provide care for individuals that are experiencing memory impairments including dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Recently constructed facilities tend to be very similar to apartments as opposed the more medically oriented nursing care facilities.

  • Nursing Care Facilities - Medically oriented settings (or in some cases home-like settings) with 24-hour nursing care for individuals in need of rehabilitative care as well as long-term health care. In addition to nursing care, residents receive daily personal care assistance with bathing, dressing, and meals, as well as structured recreational and social activities.
Clarifying Confusing Terminology:

Years ago, retired individuals remained in their own homes until they were no longer able to care for themselves. At that time, the individual may have moved into a nursing home or taken up residence with a family member or child. In the last 20 or 30 years, many housing options have sprung up for seniors. This is a good thing, but the wide array of choices can be confusing and complicated.

Most of the confusion is caused by the interchangeability of terminology. For instance, the term assisted living is often used for any type of retirement option that involves assistance with daily living including assisted living communities, retirement homes, continuing care facilities and even nursing homes. On the other hand, an assisted living community can also be called a retirement community, independent living community or center for aging.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that retirement housing options are increasing in scope to accommodate the massive numbers of retiring baby boomers. What were once low-rise or high-rise buildings that provided services for a limited population have evolved and expanded into large comprehensive complexes of buildings designed to provide housing options for individuals from their retirement years into the nursing home or hospice care environment.

Points to Consider:

Therefore, rather than selecting a senior housing option according to the type of facility, it's important to consider the needs of the individual and then select the facility best suited to provide services to meet those needs.

Apart from considering current health and mental issues, projected difficulties with activities of daily living are considered as well. For instance, someone suffering from dementia may need only in-home residential care at the start but as the disease progresses the need for care in an assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing facility will mostly likely be needed

In order to do this, consider the following goals:

  • Independence - Although many retirees may desire independent living, some are not able to continue to live without help. There are many community service agencies that provide meal and transportation service at a low or discounted cost, as well as other assistance oriented services. These services help seniors remain in their homes for longer periods of time. Maintaining independence for as long as possible has been shown to have positive effects on the senior's mental health.

  • Privacy - Many seniors value their privacy as much as their independence and larger senior communities that have individual apartments might be the most suitable.

  • Short-term or Long-term care - Retirement communities are rarely selected for short-term residence. And nursing homes may not be the best option for seniors who are still independent and relatively healthy. Considering the short-term and long-term needs of the individual will help when selecting the best senior housing option.

  • Level of care needed - An individual who needs minimal assistance such as light housekeeping or meal preparation is likely to do best when able to stay in his or her own home, provided his or her social needs are met. A sense of community, emotional connections and touch are often cited as contributors to longevity and happiness.

    Limited personal care assistance can be successfully provided within the person's own home, an independent living community, or an assisted living community. Seniors who need extensive medical care may need to be placed within a nursing home

  • Cost - As much as most people would like to believe that cost would never be a factor in the placement of a loved one, the fact remains that senior housing can be very expensive for the senior and his or her family, especially as people live longer.

    The cost of paying caretakers to provide medical and personal care assistance in the home can add up quickly and the initial entry fees involved in contracting for the services of a continuing care retirement community can be out of reach for many people

  • Facility's proximity to family members and friends -Another important factor when selecting appropriate senior housing is the facility's proximity to family members and friends. Visits are extremely important for a senior's emotional and mental health. As such, it's important that the senior housing facility is convenient for visits not only in terms of distance but in terms rules and amenities.

  • References and reviews - It is imperative for anyone considering senior housing options to take a personal tour of the facilities as well as seek references from other individuals, medical professionals, as well as some of the current residents of the facility (and family members if possible).