As we get older, many of us need help on a day-to-day basis. There are several different options for how to seek this kind of care, and two of the most common are long-term care facilities and nursing homes. Long-term care incorporates staff and services to help someone with day-to-day life. A nursing home offers daily medical care and monitoring for someone with ongoing needs. Here’s how they compare.
For help planning for nursing home and long-term care facility needs, consider matching with a vetted financial advisor for free.
What Is Long-Term Care?
Long-term care, per the National Institute on Aging, “involves a variety of services designed to meet a person’s health or personal care needs during a short or long period of time.” When a people can no longer performance everyday activities on their own, these services assist them in living as independently as possible.
In essence, long-term care is about helping someone with their day-to-day routine. The details can range widely depending on how much help a person needs. For example, at the low end this might involve shopping, housekeeping and providing meals for someone who has difficulty getting to the store. At the high end, it might involve helping someone with bathing, dressing themselves and moving around the house.
Much long-term care is provided in someone’s home. In fact, when someone’s needs are relatively light, friends and family may suffice in handling what’s necessary. When volunteer effort isn’t quite enough, many families hire professional, long-term caregivers to come into the home from time to time.
Long-term care facilities exist for people with more extensive needs. These are also known as “assisted living facilities.” They’re built for people who need long-term care on a more consistent basis. For example, someone who needs help preparing meals would not likely need a long-term care facility. In that case, someone can come to their home from time to time. But someone who needs help using the toilet and getting out of a chair might need staff available at all times.
A long-term care facility typically offers independent living in an apartment or series of rooms, backstopped by a range of services to help someone manage their day-to-day life. While these facilities often have medical staff on hand, they are not medical caregivers. They’re oriented around someone with significant physical and social needs, not necessarily medical ones.
What Is a Nursing Home?
A nursing home is a medical facility designed to provide 24/7 care. With a nursing home, you typically receive all the services that a long-term care facility provides. This means that the residents can get meal preparation, help moving around and other daily assistance as necessary.
However nursing homes add an extra layer of dedicated medical care. Generally speaking, a nursing home patient can receive any degree of care that nursing staff are qualified and licensed to provide. This can include:
- Administering medication
- Intravenous drips
- Physical and mental therapy
- Wound care
- Managing medical devices such as ventilators
- Monitoring vital signs
A nursing home does not typically have doctors on staff. If a patient needs to see a doctor or has a medical emergency, the person is taken to the appropriate facility. However the nursing home may have ambulances on hand in case a patient needs emergency transport.
The purpose of a nursing home is to provide a combination of medical care and personal support for patients with ongoing medical needs. Historically, these facilities were mostly transitional. Patients would move into a nursing home after a hospital stay and would move out once well enough. Today many nursing homes offer long-term care options themselves, allowing patients with chronic health issues to live there on an indefinite basis.
How Should You Choose?
The key difference between a long-term care facility and a nursing home is this: In long-term care, the residents are there for physical and social services, whereas in a nursing home, the residents are there as patients in need of medical care.
There is significant overlap in the services that a long-term care facility and a nursing home will provide. In both cases, a resident gets help with daily living and has access to some form of health care monitoring. The main difference is in degree.
In an assisted living facility, the goal is to let someone live as normally as possible. The facility offers services built for that purpose. The staff is available for medical needs, but often just as a 24/7 point of contact to help residents get to a doctor and/or hospital. Pick this if you need help during the day and can go to the doctor as needed.
In a nursing home, the goal is to help someone who has ongoing medical needs. The facility has nursing staff and medical facilities built around that purpose. The nursing home will have daily support to help residents to live as normal a life as possible, but the goal is to provide nursing treatment and medical monitoring. This is most likely an option that you will select with or at the advice of your doctor.
Both long-term care and nursing homes accept residents regardless of age. Most residents will be older, since age is the most common cause of chronic mobility, mental and health needs. But it’s not uncommon for someone to need ongoing care for any number of other reasons, ranging from illness or injury to genetic disorders.
The Bottom Line
Long-term care facilities help someone with day-to-day activities like cooking and cleaning. A nursing home provides 24/7 medical attention from nurses. The best option is based on whether you need help living an ordinary life, or if you need ongoing medical care. Consider matching with a vetted financial advisor for free to determine which services you or a loved one may need and which option is most cost-effective and appropriate.
Tips For Affording Long-Term Care
- One of the most difficult parts of long-term care is finding a way to pay for it. That’s why it’s good to begin planning this into your retirement savings and insurance plans early.
- And the best way to make those plans is with professional help, which can be provided by a financial advisor. Finding one doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
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