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Is “Senior Living” Really Just Another Name for “Nursing Home”?

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For seniors and their families, deciding how, when, and where to transition from a current home is often a very emotional—and confusing—process. And because not all senior communities or healthcare facilities are the same, understanding the differences is an essential first step in making the right decision for yourself or your family member.

Many people think that, when an aging parent needs extra help or more intensive support, a nursing home is the default option. But they may not realize that the same level of support can often be provided in a less clinical, more personalized environment. That’s what senior living is all about.

So, no, “senior living” is NOT the same as “nursing home”—far from it. Here are some of the major differences:

In the nursing home setting of today, residents are more like patients—much like in a hospital. But while, for most of us, hospital stays are short, a resident of a long-term-care nursing home is probably there for the rest of his or her life. Care is delivered in a very clinical, often intrusive environment. Most rooms are shared, chaotic, and noisy, with distracting paging systems that are both audible and visible. Daily schedules are regimented and designed to meet the clinical dictates of the nursing home regulations. Personal freedoms and options simply can’t be the priority, as limited staff are typically rushing to complete their many required tasks. While an individualized approach may be the goal, it’s exceedingly difficult to fully realize within this burdensome regulatory environment.

Senior living is a much more individualized environment that puts the continuation of a senior’s life, habits, and hobbies first. For example, at Wentworth Senior Living, our staff is well trained and fully capable of providing the complex care that many of our residents require. They do so in a subtle, private, and comforting way within the confines of each resident’s own apartment—a quiet, homelike environment. The daily schedule is populated with resident choices—not predefined or inflexible programming—from which individuals may pick and choose which, if any, to participate in. Personal freedoms are embraced, supported, and encouraged, because we believe that choice and individualized support most closely reflect what life should be. Our staff has the time, and is encouraged, to stop and talk with residents, creating deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships.

Still not sure either of these options is right? Here are some of the other types of communities you may have heard about—and what they typically provide:

  • A retirement community is, essentially, independent living. While some retirement communities offer prepared meals or housekeeping services, seniors must manage healthcare needs themselves and will often need to move to an appropriate medical care facility as their health declines.
  • An assisted living community offers prepared meals and maintenance service, and typically also provides support with medical care when needed. Scheduled programs and entertainment are focused on addressing the varied dimensions of a resident’s well-being. A licensed assisted living facility usually serves more independent residents and can offer some level of healthcare, but may not be able to support residents with substantial health concerns. The main difference between basic “assisted living” and “senior living” is that senior living can address both ends of the spectrum.
  • A rehabilitation center, or skilled nursing facility, sometimes located within a nursing home, provides therapeutic care and rehabilitation for people recovering from an acute medical condition, such as a fracture or stroke. Rehabs are not long-term residences and length of stay is often determined by Medicare or private insurance coverage. The term “skilled nursing” is used by Medicare to define treatments (such as IV antibiotics, shots, dressing changes, or tube feeding) managed by a Medicare-certified registered nurse.
  • Palliative and hospice care centers are specifically designed to address the needs of a person facing a serious illness and/or end of life. Palliative care or hospice care services typically focus on comfort and quality of life, rather than treatment, and can be made available both in a clinical or home setting.

Senior living is not the “right” or “wrong” choice, and neither is a nursing home. But by understanding all the available options, you can help your loved one determine the most appropriate place for them—one that feels like home.