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Long-term care (LTC) is a combination of supportive services to help elderly and disabled individuals who are unable to fully care for themselves. It includes physical, emotional, social and medical support for individuals who cannot independently perform the essential activities of daily living. Services range from assistance with basic needs such as bathing to more complex medical services and supervision. Some people opt to receive care in their own homes, while others choose to move into a long-term care facility.

From the various LTC facility options available to the best long-term care insurance, selecting the right care for your loved one can be overwhelming. Understanding the forms of care they need, what kinds of services are available at each type of facility and the cost of long-term care goes a long way in helping you make an informed decision. In this comprehensive guide on the types of long-term care facilities, we'll cover the various LTC options and the most important factors to consider.

What is a long-term care facility?

A long-term care facility is a place in which housing, medical assistance and personal care services are provided to individuals who cannot take care of themselves on their own. These facilities for older adults include nursing homes and assisted living communities, as well as adult daycare centers and memory care units. The type of LTC facility you choose for your loved one will dictate the level of support, services, amenities and cost.

What do long-term care facilities provide?

Long-term care facilities offer a wide array of services and assistance to individuals requiring support in their daily lives. Generally, these services can be categorized into four areas:

1. Medical care may include medication management, wound care, physical and occupational therapy, preventative health screenings and lab tests. In addition, facilities that offer medical care may be staffed with trained medical professionals such as nurses and doctors who can assess the individual’s condition, diagnose illnesses and provide necessary treatments.

2. Personal care includes help with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, grooming and using the restroom. These services can be provided by trained staff or home health aides.

3. Social support can be social programs and activities designed to improve the quality of life for their residents.

4. Other services may be available, such as meals, transportation and recreational activities. This can also include specialized services like physical therapy or memory care.

Aside from the general services mentioned above, some facilities also offer specific forms of care targeted to meet the needs of certain populations. Examples include care for people with dementia, developmental disabilities or mental health issues.

Types of long-term care facilities

Long-term care options for seniors and other individuals vary widely, from large nursing homes to small assisted living communities. Each type provides its own unique set of services and amenities. The following section examines some common examples of long-term care facilities.

Nursing homes

Nursing homes are typically the most comprehensive type of long-term care facility. They offer a full range of medical and nursing services as well as personal care, social support and other services. Nursing home residents often suffer from chronic illnesses or disabilities that require 24-hour attention from trained health care professionals. In some cases, a nursing home may also provide end-of-life care in the form of hospice services.

Assisted living communities

Assisted living communities are designed to give residents more independence and choice in their everyday lives. These facilities often offer private apartments or studios as well as shared common areas for activities and socializing. Services typically include personal care, medication management assistance and social activities. There may also be optional services such as housekeeping, transportation and meal delivery.

Skilled nursing facilities

Skilled nursing facilities provide short-term care for individuals recovering from serious illnesses or injuries. Residents usually stay at the facility for one to three months while receiving specialized treatments and therapies to help speed recovery. Services may include physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, as well as medical services such as wound care and IV medication administration. Skilled nursing facilities are typically staffed with more nurses and therapists than other providers of long-term care.

Memory care facilities

Memory care facilities are specialized communities for people with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other memory-related conditions. These facilities provide residents with a safe and secure environment in which they can receive personalized care and medical support. Memory care communities often feature structured programming, such as physical activity classes, cognitive stimulation, social activities and even technology-based programs to help residents manage their condition. This type of care is usually more expensive than other types of long-term care but can greatly improve a resident’s quality of life.

Adult day care centers

Adult day care centers usually operate during the daytime and provide seniors with activities and services. These may include meals, physical fitness classes, cognitive stimulation activities, social activities and more. Adult day care centers are a great option for those who want to remain in their home but need extra assistance or companionship during the day.

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs)

Perhaps the most holistic form of long-term care, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) provide support for seniors at all stages of life. These facilities offer tiers that allow residents to move to different levels of long-term care as their needs change. Residents typically begin at the least restrictive level with independent living. As their health and fitness decline, they can transition into more supportive levels of care, such as assisted living and skilled nursing.

Long-term care facilities vs. in-home nursing care

One of the most daunting decisions seniors and their families face is whether to opt for in-home nursing care or a long-term care facility. Aside from the obvious hurdle of having to leave one's home, cost is typically a major factor. In-home nursing care is generally less costly than assisted living facilities depending on the number of hours needed, while specialized care, such as skilled nursing facilities, can be substantially more expensive.

Despite the cost, many prefer in-home nursing care to a long-term care facility as it allows seniors and their families to maintain greater independence and privacy. In addition, seniors who receive in-home nursing services are typically able to remain within familiar settings with family nearby. This can help reduce stress and loneliness, and provide comfort in a time of great transition.

The true question is whether the constant oversight and care offered by a long-term care facility outweighs the independence, privacy and familiarity afforded by in-home nursing services. Both options offer great benefits, and choosing which route is best comes down to your individual circumstances. Carefully evaluate all the options and speak with medical professionals to make sure you’re making the best decision for everyone involved.

What to consider when choosing the right type of long-term care facility

As with any major life decision, there are several critical factors to consider when deciding on a long-term care facility. These factors can sometimes conflict with one another, so weigh the pros and cons of each option before making a decision. The following section lays out the most common elements you'll want to consider when exploring available long-term care options.

Level of care needed

The level of care needed is one of the most important aspects to consider when selecting a long-term care facility. It’s essential that your loved ones receive the appropriate level of care that addresses all medical and personal needs. This is a clear criterion, and if the facility doesn't offer the necessary level of care, it's time to look for another option.

For some seniors, this may mean continuous nursing and medical attention, while others may only need basic assistance with everyday tasks. In either case, it’s important to consult with health professionals who can help you determine the best level of care for your loved one.

Level of independence

The level of independence that a senior desires is another factor to consider when choosing a long-term care facility. Although many older adults prefer to maintain independence for as long as possible, it’s important to weigh that against the care level they may need to remain safe and healthy. Some long-term care facilities offer independent living arrangements where seniors have their own apartments or rooms but still receive daily assistance with activities such as meals or housekeeping. Others may offer a more restrictive environment where nurses and aides are available around the clock to provide medical assistance and help with daily tasks.

Ideally, your loved one should be given as much freedom as possible while still receiving the necessary assistance to keep them well.

Social and lifestyle preferences

Similar to the desired level of independence, lifestyle preferences and social connections will also play a large role in determining the best long-term care facility. The range of organized activities, socialization opportunities, entertainment options, common spaces and community populations varies widely between facilities. If a senior was an active member of their community before moving into a long-term care facility, it's likely that they'll thrive in an environment that encourages continued engagement and involvement.

It's also important to consider the length of your loved one’s stay. More cost-effective nursing home facilities may make sense if it’s likely to be a short-term arrangement. But if they plan to remain there for years, then look for a facility that offers the right amenities, activities and resources to make their stay more enjoyable.

Location and accessibility

Maintaining connections with loved ones in the area holds immense value for seniors, but this can prove challenging if a facility is too far away. Consider how accessible a facility is via public transportation, the proximity to family members for regular visits and availability of critical medical services such as pharmacies. These considerations may help narrow your decision as you prioritize convenience and quality of life.

Costs and affordability

Cost is nearly always a key consideration when researching long-term care facilities. Facility costs can vary substantially depending on the level of care, services and location. If you have long-term care insurance, make sure to check with your provider about what is covered. In addition, if you are relying on government benefits such as Medicaid, ensure that the long-term care facility accepts those payments and inquire about any additional costs that may apply.

When you're deciding how best to prepare financially for an aging person to enter long-term care, learn as much as possible about whether hybrid life and long-term care insurance is worth buying.

Caregiver and family support

When it comes to in-home care, it's crucial to have a dependable and well-informed caregiver who can offer the required assistance while also staying in touch with loved ones. A family member who takes on the caregiving role should clearly understand their responsibilities and expectations. Additionally, it's advisable to explore long-term care insurance policies that cover informal caregivers such as family members.

If a professional caregiver is employed, verify that they are properly licensed, have experience with similar cases and can provide references from previous clients. This is especially critical if they'll be spending extended periods of time with your loved one. The last thing you want is a caregiver who is unqualified or unreliable.

Does Medicare cover long-term care facility costs?

Generally speaking, Medicare doesn't pay for most long-term care facility costs, but this rule has a few exceptions. For example, the Medicare home health benefit may cover some forms of in-home care if you require skilled nursing care or physical therapy. Other services, such as short-term stays in a skilled nursing facility, may also be covered by Medicare.

Summary of Money's types of long-term care facilities

There's a lot to consider when a loved one transitions into a long-term care facility. From figuring out exactly which long-term care is best suited to striking the right balance between quality and affordability, it pays to do your due diligence before making any decisions. After you've assessed your loved one’s needs and the available budget, you can start exploring the different types of long-term care facilities.

You may have to compromise on some factors, but the one place you should never skimp on is the quality of medical care and assistance. Be sure to inquire about each facility's staffing levels, training requirements and references from previous clients. By sticking to these guidelines, you can rest easy knowing that your loved one is receiving the best care possible.