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Five tips for choosing an assisted living facility

by Shannon Lee

Choosing between an assisted living facility and a nursing home can be a difficult task. Understanding the difference between the two services could make your very important decision much easier.

When you are confronted with the question of senior care for yourself or your loved one, the many options available can be downright daunting. Understanding the basic differences between nursing homes and assisted living centers can ease the confusion and help you make the best decision.

Assisted living facilities vs. nursing homes

An assisted living facility offers special housing for elders, as well as support services. These services usually include assistance with day-to-day activities, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and the like. Meals are often provided in a cafeteria-style atmosphere, and regular activities are scheduled for those residents who might like to attend. Very basic health care, such as reminders to take medication, might be offered.

A nursing home is also known as a skilled nursing facility. Seniors in nursing homes receive assistance related to day-to-day activities, but they are also monitored by a round-the-clock nursing staff. Patients in nursing homes often have chronic medical conditions and require daily medical services, but not the acute care offered by a hospital.

If your loved one is determined to maintain their independence, and they have only minor issues of aging to contend with, an assisted living facility might be your best option. However, if your elderly loved one has significant medical problems that require regular monitoring, or mental or emotional issues that need constant attention, a skilled nursing facility could be a good fit.

5 practical tips for selecting an assisted living facility

Choosing an assisted living center or a nursing home is not a decision to be taken lightly. Here are a few practical tips to help make the decision--and the transition--easier for everyone involved.

  1. Start slow. Begin with hiring help for basic chores, such as mowing the lawn or running errands. As the need for care progresses, add more in-home care.
  2. Start a conversation. Talk to your loved one about what the future might hold. Discuss their medical issues and what their options are for long-term care. Making a decision may not happen overnight, so be patient with them as they sort through their emotions.
  3. Offer choices. When staying at home is no longer realistic, sit down to talk about assisted living centers or nursing homes. Allow them to make many of the decisions on their own, within reason. Bring their doctor into the discussion as ask for their opinion as well.
  4. Make legal preparations. Long before a long-term care decision must be made, consider the legal roadblocks that might hinder any elder-care choices. Talk to your loved one about finances, durable power of attorney, and other legal factors.
  5. Show them you care. When you do place your senior loved one in an assisted living center or nursing home, visit them often and talk with them daily if at all possible. Pay attention to their care, follow up on any complaints, and become an advocate for them. Most of all, remind them how much you care about them, and show them that their comfort and health is your utmost concern.

Choosing between an assisted living center and a skilled nursing facility can be difficult; but with open lines of communication between you and your loved ones, that rocky road can be made much smoother.