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Learn about retirement communities, assisted living communities, nursing homes


As your parents or other family members get older, you may start worrying about their living arrangements, especially if they have been ill or have suffered injuries at home. It can be difficult to provide enough help yourself, particularly if you do not live nearby. At one time, elderly family members had limited choices. They could live alone, with relatives or in a nursing home. Those are still common choices, but these days there is a much wider variety of elder care options.

Home Care Services

Seniors who are still healthy and mentally alert enough to live at home generally prefer to do so. Home care service options range from certified nursing assistants who can help manage minor medical conditions and medication schedules to home aides who help with chores like cooking and cleaning. Typically, you can arrange services and a schedule that suits you. Even for seniors who live with a family member, home care services can help take some of the pressure off the primary caregiver, especially during the workday.

Retirement Communities

Also called independent living communities, retirement communities are typically condominium or apartment buildings with amenities ranging from banks to hair salons right in the building. Each resident has a private apartment and kitchen, although many communities also offer dining facilities or meal service for seniors who choose not to cook. Housekeeping services are often also an option. Retirement communities often provide a wide variety of activities and services and are perfect for healthy, active seniors who don't want to maintain a house or who no longer drive.

Assisted Living Communities

Similar to retirement communities, these facilities provide more support for seniors that may have trouble living independently, but aren't seriously ill and don't need high-level medical care. Apartments are private, but typically have only a kitchenette, because the facility provides three meals a day in a dining room. These communities also provide housekeeping services as well as assistance with daily living activities and management of medical conditions. Staff is generally on-site 24 hours a day, but skilled nursing services may be limited to certain hours. A variety of social activities are also provided for residents.

Nursing Homes

Seniors with medical conditions that require a high level of care will most likely need a nursing home, which will provide 24-hour skilled nursing care. Some offer private rooms, but usually two residents share a room. Many have a central dining room but also offer in-room meal service, depending on residents' needs. Most provide social activities, too. Many nursing homes also have short-term rehab programs for those seniors expected to be able to resume independent living.

Continuing Care Communities

These communities are a hybrid of the previous three. All levels of care are available in the same facility, so it's possible to start with the independent living program and, if needed, change the level of care without having to find a new facility. This is an especially convenient option for seniors with medical conditions that are expected to worsen.

Alzheimer's Care Communities

Alzheimer's care is typically an option within either an assisted living or nursing home facility. The apartments are semi-private and trained staff provide structured routines for residents. The facility is also usually secured to prevent residents from wandering off.

Residential Care Homes

These facilities provide a family-like atmosphere for a group of seniors who want a more home-like setting than the other options provide. Each facility has live-in caretakers who provide assistance with daily living activities, including dressing and bathing. The US Administration on Aging's elder care locator can help you find appropriate services in your area.

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