Understanding Senior Housing Options

Housing options for older adults who are still fairly independent

Even if you haven't noticed that an older adult you're caring for is starting to have trouble living on his own, it's a good idea to bone up on the various housing options. From aging in place, with outside assistance if necessary, to round-the-clock care at a skilled nursing facility, whatever he needs is available.

For older adults who are able to get along without constant care, at least for the near future, housing options boil down to these basic categories:

  • Aging in place means growing old at home, the option most older adults say they're determined to pursue. To make it work, "home" will likely need to undergo some modifications, from basic safety features like an extra railing on the stairs to some of the ever-growing array of high-tech supports . In-home caregivers , available part- and full-time, independently, and through agencies, can also offer crucial support as his need for care increases.

Best for those who prize their independence; are healthy enough to perform necessary activities such as cooking, bathing, and walking safely; and live near a grocery store, a pharmacy, doctors, and a hospital -- or have a way to get to these, such as a shuttle for older adults. It also helps to have family, neighbors, or others they can reach out to when they need extra support.

  • Independent-living communities , which are usually apartment or condominium complexes, offer a social environment and some amenities but often no medical support. They frequently have beauty salons, banks, fitness programs, and communal meals. Some even have a doctor who makes regular rounds.

Best for older adults who want to be independent and don't need daily care but may be ready to stop driving, are starting to worry about their safety, or need more support and companionship.

SEE ALSO: Find Assisted Living Near You

Best for families who get along well with each other and the older adult, in which someone has extra time to spend at home once their relative moves in, and who live in a home where there's extra space (ideally including a spare bathroom).

Housing options for older adults who need regular care -- or are preparing for future needs

Although an older adult may want to spend the rest of his life in his own home, sometimes circumstances or health issues require more regular care than can be provided at home. And some older adults, while still independent, feel more secure in a place where they can get care easily later.

  • Assisted-living communities serve older adults who need more support than they can get on their own or at an independent-living community but don't need complex medical care on a daily basis. Most offer meals, housekeeping, and planned activities. Many remind residents to take medications but won't do things like give injections.

Best for those who need some supervision and help getting through the day but not the extensive care a nursing home provides.

  • Continuing-care retirement communities offer a range of eldercare options, from independent living units to assisted living to skilled nursing, all in one place. They can be costly -- most charge a hefty entrance fee and may require residents to purchase their apartment or condominium -- but because many promise to care for those who join for the rest of their lives, even if health needs change, they also offer security.

Best for those who want to be able to stay in one place, can afford the cost, and are able to plan far ahead.

SEE ALSO: Find Assisted Living Near You

  • Board-and-care homes , also known as family-care homes, are usually private residences that have been converted to provide eldercare for a small number of older adults. They generally offer all meals, round-the-clock staffing, and personal care, sometimes at a lower cost than nursing homes charge.

Best for those in a small town or rural area without a skilled nursing facility who want to stay in the region and don't need daily medical supervision. Family care homes are also a good choice for people who will thrive with lots of personal attention from caregivers who know them well.

  • Nursing homes offer round-the-clock nursing care, meals, and other basic care and activities. Some offer hospital-level care for nonacute conditions.

Best for those in need of skilled nursing care -- either long term or for recuperation from an illness or injury.



Nell Bernstein

Nell Bernstein's writings have appeared on Salon. See full bio