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What’s the Difference Between Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing?

All the options for senior living can be overwhelming for those trying to decide what’s best for a loved one. Each option has unique benefits designed for those with particular needs. Rest assured, from independent living to skilled nursing, there will be ideal services and amenities for your loved one.

The difference between assisted living and skilled nursing is especially difficult for many people to discern, since both offer a range of personal, health, and quality of living services. On top of this, some assisted living facilities also offer skilled nursing services, with the ability for residents to transfer to the skilled nursing wing or building when these services are needed — these are called “continuing care” communities. A continuing care campus might be appropriate for someone who believes their needs will develop beyond what an assisted living community can provide or a couple with distinct needs requiring the separate levels of care.

In this post, we’ll dive into what’s similar between the two as well as what’s different to help you make a decision you’ll be happy with.

The Spectrum of Senior Care

Let’s first look at all the options available, to better understand where assisted living and skilled nursing are on the spectrum of senior care. There are four primary categories of care that offer a graduated set of services.

Independent living provides the lowest level of services, designed to simply support seniors by offering convenient services like home maintenance and lawn care as well as easy access to daily dining, extra amenities, and planned activities. Assisted living provides additional help that includes personal care services. Memory care adds special assistance for those living with memory loss. And skilled nursing offers the highest level of care for those with significant health needs. These graduated levels of care allow your loved one to receive the precise type of care he or she needs.

Let’s now dive into a closer look at assisted living and skilled nursing specifically.

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted living communities are designed for seniors who find it challenging to live by themselves but who don’t have significant medical needs. These communities offer personal services such as help with grooming and dressing as well as medication management. Staff is available at all times, and residents can request help at the push of a button. Some assisted living communities have memory care as well, which is designed and specially equipped to serve people with dementia. Some communities partner with healthcare providers who come to the community on a regular schedule so that residents may conveniently access these services .

Assisted living communities also aim to serve residents’ social needs providing a full array of activities, classes, and events in which residents may participate. Staff also plan regular social outings and trips for those who enjoy exploring. Transportation may be available so residents can easily access shopping, restaurants, their doctors, the hospital, and other local businesses and organizations.

Typically, residents in these communities live in apartment-style homes that may include kitchenettes. Many residents take advantage of on-site dining, so they don’t have to cook their meals if they prefer not to. If you are considering a new living arrangement for your loved one, most seniors have needs that can be met by independent living or assisted living. If you anticipate your loved-one’s needs growing, be sure to ask the community about their ability to “age-in-place.”

What is Skilled Nursing?

Skilled nursing communities provide next-level services to seniors who need more advanced medical care. In skilled nursing, residents usually share a cozy but medically-equipped room with another resident. Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), Registered Nurses (RNs) and other medical professionals are on-site all day and night to ensure care is available whenever needed. These communities also have specialized medical equipment that assisted living communities usually do not.. While some seniors may require long-term stays in skilled nursing, these communities typically offer short-term stays as well, for those who are recovering from surgery or a stroke.

Like many assisted living communities, skilled nursing communities often partner with hospice and other services to offer a variety of additional assistance for maximum convenience. Likewise, some skilled nursing facilities have memory care for those affected by memory loss.

These communities also aim to make residents’ lives as enjoyable as possible. They have programs available that are accessible by medically-challenged residents. And staff make sure that residents who are unable to leave their rooms have company and activities to enjoy. If residents are too sick to go to the dining room for meals, staff will serve them in their rooms.

Another significant difference between skilled nursing and assisted living communities is the funding types. While assisted living communities can’t be funded by Medicare, some can be paid for or supplemented by Veterans’ Benefits, certain long-term care policies, and, where certified, Medicaid. In addition, because the care is more medical in nature, skilled nursing stays can often be covered by Medicare. If you have questions about your loved one’s eligibility, a social worker or Senior Living Advisor can help.

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How to Choose Between Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing

While it can be difficult to know which option to choose, it will come down to what type of care your loved one needs. Here are a few questions to help you determine which is right for the current needs and what to consider as you plan for the future.

  • Does your loved one have regular medical needs beyond medication management? For example do they need wound management, have a PICC line, or are they bed bound? If so, skilled nursing may be the best option.
  • Do you anticipate your loved one developing an increased medical need as in the ones listed above? If so, a community that offers a continuum of care may be best.
  • Is your loved one recovering from surgery or a stroke? Skilled nursing may be best.
  • Does your loved one have a spouse who has a need that might be best suited for skilled nursing? If so, a community that offers a continuum of care will make life more convenient while receiving different levels of care.

Choosing a community to call home is a major decision that shouldn’t be made hastily. Once you’ve determined the type of care needed type, take your time researching what individual communities have to offer. Each community is different, so touring will help ensure you’re fully informed and have experienced the environment of each option before moving forward with a decision. If you need more help, a trained Senior Living Advisor, is a great resource as you consider all the options ahead.

If you’re looking for an assisted living or memory care community in Tacoma, Washington, our Senior Living Advisors are available 7 days a week to answer your questions and give you a tour of Weatherly Inn. We offer retirement, assisted living and memory care. Schedule a tour by clicking below!


April 02, 2019

Your Guide to Finding the Right Senior Living for Your Loved Ones

Finding the right senior living for your loved ones to call home can feel overwhelming. We believe it's our job to make that task a little bit easier.

That's why we created a simple guide to help you start the conversation.

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