Even if you still feel your loved one is a long way off from needing long term care and is still living comfortably at home, it doesn’t hurt to know the difference between each type of senior living. With the diversity and size of the eldercare market, things can get confusing. I’ll keep this post direct and only talk about the four most common types: independent living/retirement communities, assisted living, residential care, and nursing homes.

Independent Living:

Independent living communities provide seniors an unmatched sense of freedom and privacy while still providing the convenience of amenities like dining, laundry, housekeeping, yard work, and transportation services. Seniors in independent living have rich social lives; dining together with other residents and enjoying planned activities or extracurricular programs. When a person plans early enough, they can spend most of their retirement in the same place. There are communities which contain other types of senior living on the same campus. This allows seniors to stay in the same place when they require more care. These are called continuing care communities.


Most commonly, people will live inside apartment buildings, condo divisions, or in homes arranged around a clubhouse. Houses are usually paid for privately. The major advantages to independent living are living independently with a spouse, access to transportation or age-related services, and a great social network.


Residential Care:


Also called group homes, this type of living has several advantages over larger facilities.  Elderly residents live in a single home and receive care from live-in caregivers. The ratio of caregivers to residents is much better than in other types of care homes. Most residential care homes deliver non-medical care, usually helping with activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, transferring, using the restroom, and meal preparation. Residential care homes have cozy, home-like environments that are relaxing for seniors. Depending upon the home, services and nursing capabilities may vary. Be sure to take a tour and talk to current residents and staff before deciding.

Assisted Living:

Assisted living is for seniors who need help with some activities of daily living (ADLs). Follow that link to learn more about ADLs. Prices vary depending upon the amount of care needed and generally, the more a senior can do independently, the less they’ll have to pay. Staffed caregivers are available around the clock so seniors in assisted living can rest assured their needs will be taken care of. Maybe help is needed with managing medications, cooking, or housework. Assisted living is not meant for people who need skilled nursing care.

Some assisted living facilities contain single-living apartments with kitchenettes for seniors who prefer privacy and can mostly take care of themselves. Other communities provide rooms within a house and residents share common areas. The least expensive style of assisted living is when residents share a single room, similar to a college dorm. Assisted living is a good choice if your loved one needs more personal care than can be given at home or if they need supervision, but not the amount of attention supplied by a nursing home.

Nursing Homes:

A nursing home can provide the highest level of care outside of a hospital. While nursing homes aid with daily care, they are generally chosen as a living option because of the high level of medical care available. A doctor oversees each resident’s care and a nurse or nurse equivalent is always available on site.

Also, nursing homes provide both occupational and physical therapists. For seniors who have recently had a health change such as a fall or a stroke, a nursing home is a smart choice. For some seniors, however, a nursing home is a temporary option following a hospitalization or rehabilitation. Once they’re done, they return home or move to another type of care facility after a short period of time.

Although picking the correct option might seem simple, you should always consult your loved one’s doctor and of course the senior themselves. There are many options available to aid in the decision, such as a medical social worker, or even agencies and organizations, which specialize in moving seniors into homes or facilities at no cost to you. Social workers and eldercare agencies can also tell you if you are eligible for federal or state aid, which increases the amount of available options by increasing your price range.


Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning provides free assistance to seniors and the disabled. Senior Planning finds and arranges care services, transitioning people into care facilities, and applying for state or federal benefits.


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5 Responses to Caring for our Aging Parents: Eldercare Explained

  1. sixtyplus says:

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  3. Three Links says:

    Caring for the elderly can be a very difficult task. When people reach their golden years, they often require special care routines and considerations since they can experience a decline in physiological functions such as blood flow and reduced muscle capacity.

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