Independent vs. assisted living: What's the difference?

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Most people who haven't experienced the aging process of a loved one don't know the differences between independent living and assisted living.

There are still plenty of "seniors" (my definition is those who are 80-plus years old) who think "senior living" is exclusively living in a nursing home. That's no longer true.

Over the past 30 years, continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs, offering independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing all on one campus became popular by providing seniors the ability to make one move and be able to have all the health care services they need for the balance of their lives.

Here's the question: Are you capable of living independently, or are you a better candidate for assisted living?

If you're in good health, both physically and mentally, transitioning from your residential home to an independent living place in a CCRC is easy to do.

However, when someone, be it the husband or wife (or both), becomes compromised from lack of mobility, has other significant health issues or has advanced cognitive issues, the opportunity to move to independent living might be lost.

Assisting living by definition must provide convenient access to the common dining facility by it being easily walkable from one's apartment to the dining room (usually on the same floor).

Three meals per day must be provided so that residents do not have to prepare any of their meals.

Residents are "looked in on" in the morning and evening by health staff and provided medications if scheduled.

Those currently living independently in a family home would be good candidates for independent living at a CCRC. If an individual has some health issues such as macular degeneration or COPD, under most circumstances he or she would still be approved.

When couples are being evaluated for independent living, if one spouse has either debilitating physical health issues or advanced dementia, the couple would be approved for independent living if the other spouse is willing and able to provide all the necessary caregiver duties.

This arrangement works well up until the time the caregiving spouse runs out of energy and becomes overwhelmed by the time and effort needed to fulfill the duties required.

Ultimately the needed services are provided by home health staff in the couple's residence or the resident transitions to a higher level of care (assisted living).

If you're waiting to move to a senior retirement community because you're in such good health, let that be the reason you make the move now. You'll be glad you did.

Joe Agee is the marketing and sales director for The Seabrook of Hilton Head. www.TheSeabrook.com

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