Industry definitions

What are Independent Living Communities (or Retirement Communities)?

They are for seniors (usually over age 55) who are still able to manage their day-to-day routine independently but who might benefit from additional security and/or social opportunities. Independent Living  communities are predominantly rentals and might be houses, townhouses, condos, and private apartments. Payment plans vary greatly. Some Independent Living communities operate on a buy-in model where the residents purchase their homes while others operate on a monthly rental basis. No custodial or medical care is available as part of the Independent Living community, though residents may bring in private supportive services. Some communities may provide modified safety features like handrails and emergency pull cords. Transportation options may also be offered. Some communities provide recreational opportunities, which may include weekly entertainment, social activities, swimming pool/spa and gym facilities, etc. Most provide kitchens, but may also offer meals in a community dining area.  

With a wider variety of communities becoming available every year, be sure to look for one that fits both your current and anticipated social, financial, and supportive needs.

What is Assisted Living?

It is essentially a communal living residence that can provide help with non-medical activities of daily living including assistance with bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, and transportation, along with some of the same benefits as independent retirement communities. Assisted Living environments maximize independence and social connections with a wide variety of activities, trips and programs. They do not provide medical care, though they will help with medication reminders or management of medications. Assisted Living communities are not required to have a licensed nurse in the building 24 hours a day but most have nurses on staff during the day. Many have separate Memory Care units for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

Today, because of the explosive growth of Assisted Living communities, services and programs offered  can vary greatly so you should always ask what is included.

What are Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs)?

Also known as nursing homes, provide 24 hour a day licensed nursing supervision for seniors who are in need of more medical care than permitted in an assisted living community. Registered nurses (RN) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can provide medical nursing assistance at all hours of the day. Furnished and most often shared rooms, social workers, Medicare A rehabilitation options, as well as onsite medical staff set them apart from other types of senior housing.

Although the standards and environment in Skilled Nursing Facilities have changed drastically in the last decade, a nursing home is still much more of a clinical setting then Assisted Living. You should carefully examine whether an Assisted Living community can offer the services you need.

What is Alzheimer’s/Memory Care?

This care is available in many Assisted Living Communities for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. There are also freestanding Memory Supportive Assisted Living Communities. The care is similar to that in Assisted Living but offers special programming designed to meet the needs of someone living with dementia. Many forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, require 24-hour monitoring in a secured environment.  Many facilities that specialize in Alzheimer’s or dementia programming feature monitored hallways, visual cues and secured outdoor courtyards to encourage independence while keeping residents as safe as possible.

There is remarkable research and work being done regarding dementia and memory loss. These alternative living models are giving seniors and their families a whole new opportunity to thrive.

What are Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)?

These are typically age-restricted properties that include varying combinations of senior housing options (independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing) all on one campus. Payment plans will vary but most often CCRCs operate on an entry fee, also known as a buy-in model, as opposed to the monthly rental model of most assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.

As with Independent Living Communities, Continuing Care Retirement Communities are gaining in popularity so it is important that you consider both your current and anticipated social, financial, geographic and supportive care needs when looking at Continuing Care Retirement Communities.

What is Home Care?

Also referred to as home health, Home Care is either private pay, covered by Long Term Care Insurance, or Medicare-certified, which allows providers to bill Medicare for reimbursement (Medicare reimbursement is typically limited to short-term rehabilitation support services only).

When being discharged from rehabilitation or the hospital, people often benefit from additional assistance in their home for a few hours per day. Because seniors desire to stay in their homes for as long as possible, most private pay home care companies can offer around the clock care or even, in extreme cases, 24/7 live-in assistance. Non-medical Home Care companies help people stay safer and remain in their home.

Be sure to interview companies thoroughly to ensure they are bonded, insured, and  background checks of their employees are current. Also make sure they not only offer the expertise you need, but that their values and the personalities of their caregivers align with yours.