There comes a time in most seniors’ lives when medical conditions, loneliness or an inability to care for oneself force families to make a decision about where a senior should be living. Often a decision needs to be made between staying at home with the assistance of a visiting aide or other caregiver or moving to an assisted living facility. Each decision is an intensely personal one, and families must consider many factors when trying to make the right decision.
What Is Senior Home Care?
Senior home care can take a variety of forms, but generally speaking, it’s care provided to a senior in his or her own home. Typically, services include assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, toileting and household tasks such as cooking, cleaning and running errands. Many families hire an agency that sends a caregiver to the home for several hours each day or a few times a week, depending on the senior’s needs.A live-in caregiver is another option that some families choose.
What Is Assisted Living?
Assisted living is like senior home care in that it usually covers activities of daily living, but the senior moves from the family home into a new place. These locations may be like a dormitory or private apartments and some are situated in sprawling or very swanky campuses that can cater to a wide variety of needs and preferences. Assisted living facilities typically have staff on site round-the-clock to assist in the event of an emergency and help keep seniors safe. Most offer meals, either in room or in a communal dining hall, and these communities tend to offer activities and social events for residents.
Which Option Is Right?
“It’s not that one option is always better than another,” says Eleonora Tornatore-Mikesh, chief experience and memory care officer at Inspīr, a new senior living community in Manhattan. “It all depends on the situation.” And each family will have to consider its options and do its own homework to determine what’s right.
Both senior home care and assisted living have their pros and cons. In deciding which is the best option, you’ll need to consider carefully your loved one’s needs and preferences and weigh those against your financial resources and safety concerns.
Anna-Gene O’Neal, division vice president of Brookdale Health Services Hospice, which provides home health, hospice and private duty home care services, agrees that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. “Staying at home, which many think would always be preferable, must be evaluated on a person-by-person basis, based on both physical as well as social elements.” These factors include, but are not limited to:
- Access to care as needed.
- Ability to manage bathing, dressing, medications and food access and preparation.
- Connections to other people and basic socialization.
Safety is a key component of whether or not home care is a better option than assisted living, says Dr. Susann Varano, a geriatrician at Maplewood Senior Living, a Westport, Connecticut–based senior living residence company. If a senior is planning to remain in the home, Varano recommends installing “grab bars and safety bars” in the shower and other potentially hazardous locations throughout the residence to prevent falls. “If they can’t walk upstairs, a stair lift can be a helpful assistive device.” Similarly, if cognitive problems such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are beginning to surface, installing extra locks or latches that make wandering out of the house and potentially into danger more difficult can be helpful adaptations, which make staying in the home safer.
If these needs can be met, then “staying in one’s home is always desirable,” says Kim Elliott, senior vice president of clinical services with Brookdale Senior Living, a Tennessee-based company that has more than 800 senior living and retirement communities across the United States. Moving to an assisted living community might not need to be a consideration until such time as the senior’s safety or socialization situation changes. “The goal of assisted living is to enhance the individual’s life,” she notes, so trying to stay home can be a worthwhile aim until quality of life begins to suffer.
In some ways, aging in place at home offers a lot of benefits. “Staying at home means there are no adjustments necessary. It provides a person with the feeling of independence. Care comes to you,” Elliott says. There’s also a “level of independence and comfort of familiar surroundings,” O’Neil adds. Change can be hard, particularly if someone’s level of cognition has begun to change.