Senior Living: Exploring difference between independent, assisted and long-term care — and how to determine what’s best

Moving into an independent or assisted living community or nursing home may be essential for older adults. It’s one of the biggest decisions they may have to make. That’s why considering the costs, doing the research and understanding the different levels of care are crucial.

Dr. Manisha Parulekar, chief, Division of Geriatrics, for Hackensack University Medical Center and co-director of its Center for Memory Loss and Brain Health, spoke about what considerations individuals and families should make about this next phase of life.

“The first step is to determine if a person is able to give an accurate assessment to determine what care they need,” she said. 

Dr. Manisha Parulekar, chief, Division of Geriatrics, for Hackensack University Medical Center and co-director of its Center for Memory Loss and Brain Health. ­— Hackensack University Medical Center

The assessment must be done by a qualified health care professional. These decisions should be considered based on a person’s current status and future needs. 

“You don’t want the senior’s life to be disrupted more than it has to be,” Parulekar said. “Moving from a home someone has lived in for many years can be difficult for anyone, especially when memory loss is a factor. Ideally, the decision to move yourself or your loved one into a new environment takes much planning and research, and should not be rushed.”

Determining the level of care

One factor to consider is how much assistance a person needs on a daily basis. 

“Does the person need help with cooking, paying bills, keeping a personal calendar or taking their medications? Can they shop for groceries? These are all indicators for if more help is needed,” Parulekar said.

Loss of vision, hearing impairment and memory loss can also impact the safety of living alone.

Independent living provides more amenities and social activities, but often does not provide as much support for personal care as assisted living communities do. In assisted living communities, help is available for activities of daily living such as bathing and medicine management. 

If assistance is needed in one or two of these types of activities, then it may be necessary to consider assisted living. If help is needed with more than two activities of daily living, it may be time to consider moving into a long-term care facility. 

Without proper planning, costs can be overwhelming

Moving into assisted living or even long-term care can be costly and often a struggle for some to afford. It is also not supported by Medicare.

The price varies depending on what services are needed, such as bathing, medication management and nursing assessments such as blood pressure and blood-sugar monitoring, etc.

“When you add in fees for these services, it begins to add up,” Parulekar said. “Assisted living is typically 20-30% more expensive than independent living. It all depends on the facility and location where you are considering.”

A facility will often consider a person’s liquid assets, such as if they own a home, as well as what they are receiving in income and other assets to cover the facility cost. 

It is again important to do research into the cost and services provided to determine what’s a fit for the senior or a loved one.

The importance of planning ahead

It’s also important for people to plan well ahead for these cost needs in the future, she said. 

“Consider financial planning in your younger years so that there is a sound retirement plan in place that considers the possibility of assisted living and long-term care,” Parulekar said. “Some people begin saving for these communities when in their 50s, 60s or even 70s.”

There are financial calculators available to help devise a savings plan and long-term care insurance that people can pay into to help save ahead for these transitions. 

It is also beneficial to plan ahead because there can be a wait to move in. Some facilities even have active and non-active wait lists. 

“The best course of action is to visit communities early and even consider staying there for a short trial,” she said. “There’s no time like the present. It’s better to be able to make this decision for yourself, rather than having to rely on someone else to do so. Pick and choose. Take your time. This is a big decision.”