If asked to choose between living independently in their own homes and moving into a nursing home facility, most people would emphatically choose independence. The term assisted living, however, causes some confusion. Most people know it’s not the same thing as a nursing home but are confused about what the differences are, and about how it differs from independent living. The good news is that many more options for senior living exist today than were available twenty years ago. Advocacy for the rights and interests of the elderly has spurred the development of facilities that place a premium on independence, dignity, and family involvement in treatment decisions.
Independent living communities consist of units much like apartments or condominiums. They are appropriate for seniors who do not need assistance with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, cleaning, or chores, but who want to enjoy the social aspects of living in a community of seniors like themselves. They maintain independent living quarters but have the option of sharing meals or participating in social activities if they choose.
Assisted living is a term coined to describe facilities that fall between independent living and nursing home services on the continuum of care. Assisted living residences may also be called residential care facilities, adult congregate living facilities, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), personal care homes, retirement homes, or community residences. The typical resident wishes to maintain as much independence as possible but also receive any help he or she requires.
The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) defines an assisted living residence as a special combination of housing, personalized supportive services, and health care designed to meet the needs of those who require help with activities of daily living. The typical resident does not need full-time nursing care but does need help with everyday tasks such as dressing, eating, and bathing. The facility also provides meals, medication management, and opportunities for socializing with others. It usually provides services such as laundry, transportation, and housekeeping so that residents no longer have to worry about everyday chores or how to get where they need to go. An important aspect of assisted living is ongoing assessment that enables staff to adjust the services provided as an aging person needs more help. Family input and involvement in treatment is greatly encouraged.
The ironic truth is that adults who move into assisted living often gain more independence than they would have had living on their own. As people age and begin to have difficulties or concerns with driving, physical activity, and falling, they often curtail their usual activities and become more isolated. Once they move into an assisted living facility, they can take advantage of such services as transportation, supervised exercise, classes, and social events and can resume activities they had abandoned while living in their own homes.
Continuous care retirement community (CCRC) is a term used for facilities that allow residents to move from independent living, to assisted living, to nursing home care as they age and need more intense levels of help. Memory care for residents with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia is usually part of the available treatment. Spouses with different levels of need can be accommodated in different areas of the facility and still eat and enjoy activities together. CCRCs can also provide temporary nursing home care following surgery or during periods of severe illness.
All of the above different types of care can be found on our site. Click here to search for assisted living, independent living, or continuing care retirement communities.