What is the Difference Between Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing Care?

When a parent or spouse is unable to get the care they need at home, it could be time to consider a skilled nursing facility or assisted living community. That said, which of these options is better suited to the needs of your loved one, and how do they compare in terms of care and cost?

When is it Time?

There is a limit to the level of care that you can provide your loved one. Home care can help, as can homemaker services, and there are also changes you can make to the home to make it more accessible and mobility friendly. The question is, when do you know it’s time to stop thinking about walk-in bathtubs, handrails, and home care services, and start considering residential facilities?

Generally, it will come down to the patient’s health and/or the caregiver’s limitations:

Patient’s Health

  • Late-Stage Dementia: When the patient has entered the later stages of dementia, they will be unable to properly care for themselves and will require round-the-clock monitoring. Even if you can provide this level of care, you may be unable to stop them from wandering off and harming themselves.
  • Accidents are Frequent: Are they experiencing regular trips and falls in their home? Do you find that you’re making frequent visits to the hospital or doctor’s office as a result of an in-home trip, fall, burn, or cut? Most accidents occur at home and the risk is significantly higher for patients with late-stage dementia.
  • They Have Other Health Conditions: With the right care and a properly renovated home, late-stage care can be provided over the long term. However, when another illness is present, including heart disease, chronic lung conditions, or diabetes, this complicates matters immensely and places further limitations on the caregiver.

Caregiver’s Limitations

  • The Caregiver is Ill or Disabled: Many older spouses are left to care for their loved ones when they are diagnosed with dementia, but the spouse may be suffering from their own limiting health problems. Furthermore, they may be jeopardizing their own health to provide care for their loved one.
  • The Care Provider is Struggling: Caregiver stress is a common condition that impacts inexperienced caregivers suddenly thrust into the role of primary caregiver. They work around the clock to meet the demanding needs of their loved one and, in doing so, they neglect their own health and well-being.
    • Respite care services can help, but if this becomes frequent and the patient’s condition continues to worsen, it could be time to seek outside help.
  • Only One Person Can Help: Caregiver stress is less of a concern when there are multiple family members offering assistance. Two or three can take shifts while others help with grocery shopping, bills, financial management, and everything else that goes into managing a patient’s life.
  • You’re Scared for their Safety: If you find yourself constantly worrying that your loved one will wake in the middle of the night, scramble out of bed, disappear, and/or hurt themselves, thus putting both of your lives at risk, it could be time.
    • Care facilities will secure the doors and use alarms and tracking systems to prevent such situations from occurring, taking the weight off your shoulders.

Skilled Nursing Facility

A skilled nursing facility, or “SNF,” is also known as a nursing home. A stay in one of these locations is often temporary and typically follows an illness or an accident.

For example, if a patient suffers a fall in their home and is unable to properly care for themselves when they return, they may spend a short time in a nursing home. If recommended by a doctor, such a stay may be covered by Medicare and will therefore not drain the patient’s finances.

This is key, as a private room in a skilled nursing facility can cost close to $100,000 a year, with the median cost being only a few grand less than this monumental total.

A skilled nursing facility is similar to a hospital in that it provides both personal care and medical care. It can meet all the needs of a dementia patient and, therefore, is often the best option.

Assisted Living Facility

An assisted living facility is a little less all-encompassing than a skilled nursing facility. It’s also much cheaper and is available for roughly half the price for a full-time, year-long stay.

The goal of an assisted living facility is to provide help with the activities of daily living, which include toilet-related needs, personal hygiene requirements, mealtime assistance, medication management, and other basic chores.

The patient can live somewhat independently and can also benefit from regular social interactions, including game nights, outings, and more. It’s a step up from a senior living community, where individuals live independently and get assistance with maintenance, but it’s also a step down from a skilled nursing facility.

Many patients stay in assisted living facilities for long periods of time and can adapt their services based on their changing requirements.

Assisted Living vs Skilled Nursing Care

When the time comes, you should sit down with the patient and your loved ones and discuss the right options. It’s not a decision that you should rush into. Rather, take the time to review the facilities, speak to staff members, look at reports, check reviews, and compare different facilities.

You shouldn’t feel obliged to pick the facility nearest you, but at the same time you want to choose one that is affordable, provides the level of care required, and is near enough to loved ones to ensure regular visits and social interactions. 

The outdoor area is also key if your loved one is mobile. You want them to be somewhere they can enjoy a little peaceful nature and relax.

If their condition is serious and they don’t get along with other people, a private room should be considered. Otherwise, you can opt for semi-private and save a substantial sum of money in the process.