Do you know the difference between assisted living and a nursing home? Here’s what nursing homes off to our elderly relatives.

Aging comes with a massive number of changes to almost every area of your life. Some of the most profound changes are physical. Your body and its needs begin to not only take a new shape but dictate other areas of your life, including where you live.

A nursing home is a place that answers the call as you find that your needs change and you require more help. Simply put, nursing homes provide skilled, 24/7 care to those who don’t need hospitalization but who can no longer have their needs met at home.

What is a nursing home, and what does it look like? It depends on the facility. The services offered by one nursing home may be more closely in tune with a traditional hospital. Others may use services that make the facility feel closer to living at home with a somewhat fixed schedule but more freedom to dictate the minutiae of their lives and develop relationships.

These systems of care differ from place to place, and each caters to a specific group’s needs. Here are some of the services offered and how to find one that best suits your loved one.

When is it Time for a Nursing Home?


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Nursing homes represent the highest tier of care outside hospitals. As a result, they cater to people who need intense levels of regular care rather than those who need extra help or looking after.

Those who are aging and who need help with their activities of daily living (ADLs), like grooming, dressing, eating, toileting, and transferring, might start in an assisted living home or even an independent living home depending on their needs.

If, for example, your loved one is mobile on their own but no longer has the energy or capacity to do things like cook for themselves or care for their home, then an assisted living center can help them care for themselves. And they do so in a way that encourages and maximizes independence with less risk.

Nursing home care enters the picture when a person can no longer get the care they need at home and require more services than the typical assisted living facility offers. Usually, it means more intense and specialist medical and assisted care. For many families, looking for nursing home care often means hunting down support services for loved ones who are in the late stages of dementia.

What Services Do Nursing Homes Offer?


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Nursing homes offer a range of services that fall under several categories:

  • Room and board
  • Personal and custodial care
  • Skilled care
  • 24-hour emergency care
  • Medication monitoring
  • Social activities

Here’s what you’ll find in each.

Room And Board

All nursing homes are full-time, live-in facilities. Not all patients in nursing homes are permanent. In some cases, hospitals discharge their patients to nursing homes to finish the recovery process in a less intensive and costly environment. Then, those patients may return home.

Rooms may be private or shared depending on the facility and the price you select. Most rooms are open-plan bedrooms with attached en-suite bathrooms. They do not offer kitchens but may have small sitting areas.

Nursing homes also provide all meals on a schedule. They cater to dietary requirements ranging from low-sodium diets to Kosher diets. Any nursing home that receives Medicare funding (and most do) must honor any religious dietary requests.

In addition to scheduled meals, some nursing homes also offer coffee hours and other opportunities to socialize around food both with other residents and family members.

Personal And Custodial Care

Nursing homes employ certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to provide personal and custodial care to all patients. These include help getting dressed, toileting, bathing, and whatever ADLs each patient requires.

Often, CNAs make rounds on a particular ward or wing according to a schedule, and many get to know the patients they care for well.

Custodial care also includes turning and transfers for patients who are bedridden or who require extra help moving from their bed to their chair.

Skilled Care

Nursing homes provide skilled care either by on-site staff or through specialists who rotate around multiple centers.

Every home employs registered nurses (RNs), who have the medical training to monitor disease and illness as well as treatments.

Additionally, nursing homes often offer spaces for therapists such as respiratory, physical, and occupational therapists. These therapists follow the patient’s prescribed plan set by their doctor or outside specialist.

If a patient requires specialty care outside the facility, the nursing home may or may not provide transportation to the specialist’s office.

Very often, nursing home facilities offer a specialized service known as memory care. Memory care means something different in each home, but it usually involves an organizational structure as well as employees who cater specifically to patients with dementia, late-stage dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

24-Hour Emergency Care

Nursing homes monitor patients around the clock with three shifts of workers and nurses on-site to check in on patients.

When needed, emergency care is never far away. A skilled nurse can step in, and the facilities have direct lines to ambulances and near-by hospitals if this is required. Facilities may also have on-site or on-call physicians who are available 24-hours per day.

Medication Monitoring

When a patient enters a nursing home, their prescriptions become the responsibility of their care team. The licensed nurse practitioner (LPN) usually takes control of the daily meds.

Social Activities

Nursing homes also offer both community and social events on a daily schedule. Events and activities differ significantly between facilities and are often the product of a social or community coordinator.

How to Choose the Best Nursing Home for Your Loved One


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The right nursing home is the difference between your loved one’s health and happiness and years of problems. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the luxury of time when it comes time to find a nursing home, but even if you don’t, it is worth following this process before admitting your family member.

First, choose your nursing home according to the care needed. If your loved one is progressing through dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, look for a facility with a significant focus on memory care. Doing so will help them make the most of what memory they have left and directly support them in ways that a standard nursing home can’t.

Also, find a place that suits their needs but isn’t inaccessible to friends and family. Is it within walking distance of your loved one’s current community? Are there good transport links for older friends and relatives to visit? These are essential considerations to ensure they don’t become isolated.

Second, when you do narrow down your list, ask around. Talk to social workers, friends with aging parents, and local groups to see what they think of your choice. Your loved one’s health care provider is another excellent resource because they know what homes in the area provide the best care and if your loved one would be a good fit from a medical perspective.

Third, visit the facility. Call ahead and ask about numbers (residents, costs, staff-to-resident ratio, etc.) and if you like what you hear, go in for a visit. Nursing homes are rarely bright and bubbly places, but a visit will allow you to see what your relative’s day-to-day life will become. You’ll pick out the bad apples quickly. Don’t be afraid to go for a second visit.

On your visit, use Medicare’s official nursing home checklist. It will help structure your visit and enable you to ask questions you might not otherwise think of.

Finally, if and when you sign a contract, read it carefully. Ask questions about the clauses, and pass it on to a friend or family member or ideally your attorney to review it for you. It will clear up any concerns or raise essential flags.

Don’t Forget to Visit


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Your visits to your loved one’s nursing home are an essential part of their care. Not only do you help care for their mental and emotional health by providing them with companionship and social contact, but it is a chance to keep an eye on their health in general.

Although the U.S. government requires all nursing homes receiving Medicare funds to undergo inspections and certifications, not all nursing homes are havens of health and safety. As many as 10 million nursing home residents a year experience some type of nursing home abuse and neglect. You need to advocate for them if you feel something is out of place.

Nursing Homes Provide Care You Can’t


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What is a nursing home? It’s a residential facility that provides round-the-clock care for those who need more help than their family members can give. They provide access to daily care, specialists, and emergency care all in one place.

Choosing a nursing home is an enormous decision, and it’s essential to choose carefully to ensure that your loved one’s quality of life only improves with admission.

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