Understanding the Different Levels of Care for Seniors and What Each Entails


Did you know there are approximately 1.5 million people living in nursing homes? If you’re looking for a facility for yourself or a loved one to live in, you know just how difficult it can be. However, this statistic should give you some peace of mind in knowing that it’s a decision that many have had to make before you. 

The choice is never easy, but the more you know, the more confident you can be when making it. Understanding the various levels of care that different facilities provide is often the first step in narrowing down your options. This quick and simple guide will help you get started.

Four Primary Levels of Care

When it comes to levels of elderly care, many different terms are used, and it can be confusing. To keep things simple, we’ll start by explaining the four primary levels of care. Then, we’ll take a deeper dive into some different options and compare them to one another.

Independent Living

Perhaps the most flexible of all senior housing options, independent living gives residents the freedom to live their lives as they see fit. These “senior lifestyle communities” give them all the comforts of home as well as additional services to enhance their experience.

There’s a dedicated staff on hand to assist with seniors’ needs, but they don’t interfere with their day-to-day living. These facilities usually provide things like social activities, transportation, and dining options. Many people who move into these types of senior residences only regret not doing it sooner.  

Assisted Living

Seniors who still desire independence but need a bit of extra help are usually happiest in assisted living facilities. These facilities employ licensed nursing staff and other aids to help with everything from bathing and dressing to taking medication. However, when not in need of assistance, residents can continue to live a fairly independent lifestyle.  

Assisted living facilities often also provide social programs, transportation, dining services, and housekeeping. Those who are concerned about needing to make the independent living vs. assisted living decision may want to look for a facility that provides both. That way, when it’s time to make the transition, it can be as easy as moving into a nearby apartment or even just adding extra services without having to move at all.

Skilled Nursing

Seniors who need care while recovering from an acute illness or surgery, or who need long-term, individualized medical care are often well suited to a skilled nursing facility. This is what most people think of when they hear the term “nursing home.”

At these facilities, the senior will receive 27/4 nursing care, help with personal care like bathing and dressing, and enrichment programs to help them stay physically and mentally healthy.

Memory Care

Memory care facilities are specialized residences for seniors battling dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other cognitive issues. Here, they will receive comprehensive care in a setting that’s designed to create a balance between the ability to socialize and safety from wandering off or otherwise being injured.

Care Level Comparisons

If the above four were the only elder care options, the decision might not be as difficult. However, there are many other levels of care to consider. Here are a few of the most common comparisons you’ll need to make.

Skilled Care vs. Custodial Care

When choosing a place for a senior to live, one of the most important considerations is whether they need skilled (medical) care or custodial (non-medical) care.

Examples of skilled care include the administration of drugs through an IV, catheter care, or physical therapy (among other things). Custodial care, on the other hand, would include assistance with the activities of daily living (ADL) like eating, bathing, and getting dressed. It may also include assistance with things like meal preparation, laundry, and light housekeeping.

Home Care vs. Home Health Care

Both home care and home health care are provided to a senior in their current residence. Home health care requires that the individual providing the service must have medical training. These services may include things like checking the senior’s vitals and assisting with medical equipment like braces or ventilators.

Note that it’s common for home health care providers to also provide custodial care during their visits.

Adult Social Care vs. Adult Health Care

While learning more about the levels of care for seniors, you might also hear the term “adult daycare.” This is a program where seniors leave their homes and go to a facility for several hours during the day and then return home. It’s often used just as much to give their full-time caretakers a break as it is to provide services for the seniors.

Adult day social care is usually more of an unstructured – although supervised — setting. It typically involves social and/or recreational activities, meals, and sometimes therapy and/or personal care assistance.

Adult day health care provides everything you’ll find in a social care program as well as the same types of medical services you’ll find in a nursing home.

Everything You Need to Make Your Daily Decisions Easier

Now that you know the basics regarding levels of care for seniors, you can start to narrow down your search. However, your responsibilities certainly don’t stop there. From taking care of your children to taking care of your parents, home, and health, it seems like the decisions never end.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Keep browsing through our blog posts where you’ll find plenty of information to help make your life easier.  

About Author

LaDonna Dennis

LaDonna Dennis is the founder and creator of Mom Blog Society. She wears many hats. She is a Homemaker*Blogger*Crafter*Reader*Pinner*Friend*Animal Lover* Former writer of Frost Illustrated and, Cancer...SURVIVOR! LaDonna is happily married to the love of her life, the mother of 3 grown children and "Grams" to 3 grandchildren. She adores animals and has four furbabies: Makia ( a German Shepherd, whose mission in life is to be her attached to her hip) and Hachie, (an OCD Alaskan Malamute, and Akia (An Alaskan Malamute) who is just sweet as can be. And Sassy, a four-month-old German Shepherd who has quickly stolen her heart and become the most precious fur baby of all times. Aside from the humans in her life, LaDonna's fur babies are her world.

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