Learn The Different Options & Levels Available for Senior Care

Understanding The Differences

Finding the right level of senior care for yourself or your loved ones can be a daunting experience. And learning the senior care lingo can be a lot like learning a whole new language while you are trying to put out a fire.

In many cases the hospital or medical facilities will ask you to make a life-long decision in just a matter of two or three days.

That's a confusing maze to navigate quickly if you don't know the basics.

At Senioridy we'd like to give you a crash course on the basic levels of care available and the distinctive differences between those levels to help you to make an informed decision about finding the right level of care for you.

This informational piece is not meant to be a comprehensive report on each level of care, nor does it reflect on the merits of one type of a care level versus another. This report is solely for the benefit of learning what each care level offers in order to help you to understand what type of care is available at those levels.

The Basics - What Are The Standard Senior Care Levels?

There are four basic levels of care, each one increasing gradually in the supportive care provided.

Those four basic levels are:

  1. Independent Living
  2. Assisted Living
  3. Memory Care
  4. Skilled Nursing

A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) is a facility that provides at least the last three levels of care (Assisted Living, Memory Care, and Skilled Nursing) and in many cases a CCRC will provide care for all four of the basic levels. This type of facility can offer the convenience of moving from one level of care to the next without the burden of moving the senior resident to a new facility when care levels need to be increased.

Additional Options -

In addition to those basic levels of care there are also a few other Senior Care Options available which include:

  1. In Home Care
  2. Respite Care
  3. Senior Day Care

Basic Options

Independent Living

Independent Living facilities are available to seniors who need little to no assistance and have only minor medical issues. Here the apartments are often fully furnished and their sizes tend to vary from studio/efficiency suites up to two bedrooms. The senior residents can normally expect to find a full service dining room and, in some facilities, can have specialty diet meals prepared for them. The senior residents at an independent living community are able to enjoy numerous social outings and entertainment events that are organized by the facility's events administrator.

Many communities have extended amenities that can include items such as putting greens, community planting gardens, indoor swimming pools, aerobic classes, and on-site movie theaters. Many of the facilities will also offer onsite services such as postal services, banking, and even small convenience shopping centers.

Many Independent Living communities offer shuttle services to take residents to special events planned by the community. Regularly scheduled shuttle services are also often available that take residents to common spots like hospitals and shopping areas. Typically residents will also have their own parking slots for those who still drive their own vehicles.

Because most facilities have extensive experience dealing with senior care, it is fairly common to find wearable safety alert devices as a requirement for staying at the facility. Oftentimes physicians and nurses will make regular house calls to their patients of a facility that they are associated with.

Independent Living - Also referred to as:

  • Retirement Communities
  • Retirement Homes
  • Congregate Care
  • Retirement Villages
  • 55 + Communities
  • Senior Apartments

Common Payment Options:

  • Private pay
  • A few funded by the U.S. government through Section 202

Average Cost Range:

Between $1,500 and $3,500 per month

Assisted Living

Assisted Living provides care to the elderly in a facility that usually has some medical staff on duty at all times. It is best suited for those seniors who can communicate their needs, understand information given to them, and can perform some of their own personal care tasks (like eating and bathroom needs). Typical assistance provided in an Assisted Living facility normally includes things like medication help, light personal care assistance, meal preparation and meal time reminders. Assisted Living residents will typically eat together in a smaller, more intimate dining area and are generally expected to be capable of getting themselves to the dining room. If the Assisted Living area is located in a facility that also houses Independent Living residents then it is normal for the Assisted Living residents to have their own dining area away from the Independent Residents. Although apartments can be private, it is not uncommon to find more than one resident living in an apartment. This is often done to save on expenses. Regular shuttle services can sometimes be found in Assisted Living facilities; however, a care giver is normally required to assist the senior with travel and egress.

Some assisted Living facilities operate more like that of a group home, where each resident has his own bedroom but the rest of the area is shared by all of the residents. This type of Assisted Living is known commonly as Cottage Living or Assisted Living Group Homes. In these residential care homes, residents living together receive care from caregivers who reside in the care home. This type of a setting is more suited for seniors who are looking for a homey environment where they can receive assisted care services of their choosing. Assistance pertaining to daily activities like dressing and bathing are provided at residential care homes. The quality of nursing services and amenities vary from one residential care home to another.

Assisted Living - Also referred to as:

  • Assisted Care Community
  • Senior Cottage Living
  • Assisted Group Care
  • Senior Care Facility
  • Residential Care Homes
  • Senior Group Homes
  • Personal Care Home
  • Adult Family Homes
  • Board and Care Homes

Common Payment Options:

  • Private pay
  • Medicaid
  • Long-Term Care insurance (LTC)may be accepted for some portion of this care

Average Cost Range:

Between $2,500 and $5,000 per month


Memory Care –

Seniors suffering from cognitive and/or memory issues like Alzheimer’s or Dementia need structured and complete support 24 hours a day. Memory Care facilities are equipped to handle the special care required for patients that have a difficult time taking care of themselves. Oftentimes patients that suffer from these types of diseases will progressively get worse so the level of care needs to be flexible as the patient progresses through the dementia stages. A Memory Care facility incorporates the lifestyle of the Assisted Living facility with the medical care and higher level of assistance found in Skilled Nursing. Memory Care facilities often incorporate self-help programs that are designed to raise the level of self awareness in seniors suffering from Dementia, Alzheimer's and Sundowners syndrome. A common issue with some Memory Care patients is known as Sundowning, that is, the patient gets progressively worse as the day progresses. Memory Care facilities incorporate programs that keep patients on a regimented scheduled in order to best deal with more troublesome symptoms of Dementia, Alzheimer's, and the effects of Sundowners Syndrome.

It is not typical for Memory Care facilities to provide transportation services for their patients outside of helping them to arrange portage to and from their medical appointments when out of the facility appointments are necessary.

Almost all Memory Care facilities incorporate a combination of self-worn locator devices, In-room emergency alerts, and locks and alarms on exterior doors in order to keep the patients safely located within the confines of the facility.

Memory Care - Also referred to as:

  • Alzheimer's Care
  • Dementia Care
  • Sundowners Care

Common Payment Options:

  • Private pay
  • Medicaid
  • Some LTC Insurance Programs

Average Cost Range:

Between $3,000 and $7,000 per month

Skilled Nursing -

Skilled Nursing Care actually falls into two distinct categories:

  • Short Term Nursing Care
  • Long Term Nursing Care

Short Term Skilled Nursing

Short Term Skilled Nursing Facilities provide care for seniors that are in need of acute care or are recovering from a medical procedure or accident. There is a limit on time that facilities will keep patients for Short Term Skilled Nursing. Most facilities will cap the time spent at 100 days.

Short Term Skilled Nursing facilities are full-time nursing environments, with full time medical staff at the facility at all times. Many patients at this level are non-ambulatory and cannot care for themselves. Most require aid in bathing, dressing, eating, and getting in and out of bed. While most facilities do have a separate dining area for the patients, many will be served at their beds. Beds and furniture is always provided and is the type typically found in hospital environments.

While a patient is recovering at a Short Term Nursing Facility they will have daily therapy sessions that are designed to help the patient recover and gain back as much functionality as is possible within those first 100 days.

Rooms are very often shared with other patients who can be rotated in and out of different rooms. So a patient can have quite a few different roommates by the time they are ready to leave if they have a semi-private room. Many facilities do have private rooms which are usually available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Common Payment Options:

  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • LTC Insurance
  • Private Pay

Average Cost Range:

There is typically a daily rate which the facility charges which may range from $100 to $200 per day. For the first 100 days the majority of this may be paid by Medicare directly to the facility.

Long Term Skilled Nursing

Long Term Skilled Nursing is much like Short Term Skilled Nursing, in that it provides that exact same level of care. As its name would indicate, this level of care is reserved for those patients that cannot care for themselves and are not expected to recover quickly, if at all.

In a Long Term Skilled Nursing facility almost every part of the day is scheduled. Bathing, meals, medications, and therapy sessions are set at rigid schedules in order to be able to meet the physical, dietary, and medical care needed for every patient on a daily, on-going basis.

There are usually set visiting hours, and often over-night stays by family members are discouraged, and in many cases, not allowed. However, this policy fluctuates from one facility to the next.

Most facilities will have common areas to watch TV for those residents that can get themselves around, and many will have weekly activities to try to provide some entertainment for the residents. Most facilities will have a salon to help the patients with their hair and nail care and a dining facility so that residents have the opportunity to get out of their rooms to enjoy social stimulation and have some companionship.

Transportation is normally only provided to and from medical appointments that are away from the facility. Regular checkups to the patient's care physicians are often scheduled by the Long Term Care Facility, particularly when a family member is not present to help.

Skilled Nursing - Also referred to as:

  • Skilled Facility
  • Nursing Facility
  • Nursing Home
  • Skilled Care
  • Convalescent Home
  • Skilled Therapy
  • Short Term Nursing Care
  • Long Term Nursing Care


Common Payment Options:

  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • LTC Insurance
  • Private Pay

Average Cost Range:

$5,000 to $10,000 per month

Additional Options -

Aside from the standard levels of institutional care there are also other options that are worth considering.

In Home Care-

Of all the care choices available, In Home Care is the only non-facility option, which means that the senior being provided for would need to be living at a residence. In this circumstance a Professional Home Care company will send care workers to the residence in order to provide care to the senior.

Usually this consists of assistance through ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) like meal preparation, bathing and dressing or IADLs (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living) like bill payment, transportation, getting to appointments, or just providing companionship.

Something to note here is that within the In Home Care level there are two types of In Home Care, Basic Care and Nursing Care.

Basic In Home Care

For the most part Basic In Home Care workers are non-medical staff that visits the home on a regular basis in order to provide needed support for the senior's daily activities. In Home Care workers can be scheduled to visit the home on a daily or semi-daily basis. They typically will provide services for things like cleaning, shopping, bathing, watching the senior, providing company to the senior, and, oftentimes, bringing the senior to medical appointments, taking the senior grocery shopping, or going on outings.

In Home Nursing Care

Often times when a senior has had an accident or has undergone a medical procedure a physician will prescribe In Home Nursing care to help the senior care for a wound or to help with a non-ambulatory patient. But a physician does not have to prescribe In Home Nursing care in order for you to receive that care. If you have a senior that wishes to remain at home but is beyond basic daily care then In Home Nursing care can be quite a viable option.

In Home Nursing Care assistants are usually medically trained staff, often times RNs or LPNs, depending on the need. They can help with medications, clean and dress wounds, work with special care needs (like feeding tube and diabetic wound care patients) and, in many cases, provide basic physical therapy that has been prescribed by a physician. While they can also provide the same basic daily care needs provided by Basic Home Care staff, it can come at a higher price than the Basic In Home Care. It is not unusual to have Basic In Home Care staff come on a full or part-time basis and, at the same time, have In Home Nursing Care specialists come by for a limited time every few days. Be aware that many In Home Care companies will require a minimum number of hours on either a daily or weekly basis.

The interesting thing about this option is that, in many cases, it can be combined with Independent Living, and, in some cases, with Assisted Living in order to achieve a balance between independence and care.

Common Payment Options:

  • Private Pay
  • Medicaid / Medicare
  • Some LTH Insurances

Average Cost Range:

$20/hr to $40/hr

Also referred to as:

  • In-Home Personal Care
  • Home Health Care
  • Home Care Aide
  • Home Health Workers
  • Home Nursing Care
  • Home Therapy


Respite Care

Often referred to as Short Term Care, Respite Care is a planned temporary care offered to seniors. The short term stay in the communities is especially meant to provide some relief to the caregivers. There are several nursing homes and assisted living communities that include Respite Care at their facility. Depending on the level of care that a senior may need, their stay can last from a few short days to a few months. Generally speaking, all of the services that are offered to the facility's residents are extended to the senior who comes to stay for Respite Care at that level that best fits their needs.

Respite Care can be a great way for a senior to get used to a new community and to see if the community is a good fit for the senior. Many times families will move a senior member into Respite Care in order to provide the senior with some social stimulation and companionship.

Respite Care - Also referred to as:

  • Short Term Senior Care
  • Caregiver Respite


Common Payment Options:

  • Medicaid
  • Private Pay

Average Cost Range:

$50/day to $200/day

Senior Day Care Facilities

Senior Day Care facilities provide a varying degree of amenities. Some are self-hosted and are housed in facilities that are only open during the daytime hours. Some Senior Day Care centers are actually offered at Senior Living Facilities and are daily programs that are extended to those who are not residents of the community.

Senior Day Care is typically offered from morning until evening and generally provides two or three meals a day. Daily programs often consist of educational opportunities, exercise classes for those that can participate, entertainment, and the opportunity for social stimulation and companionship.

Senior Day Care - Also referred to as:

  • Adult Day Care

Common Payment Options:

  • Private Pay

Average Cost Range:

$25/day to $50/Day

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