Difference Between Care Settings? A Lot!

In the continuum of care for older adults, there are many options and definitions. It can be confusing.

Today, I’m going to explain a few different healthcare settings for older adults. In these settings one can receive many healthcare services, a few, or none at all. What one receives depends on his or her medical conditions. But no matter what location a participant ends up in, independent or not, these are part of a continuum of care for older adults.

  • Independent living is the place we most often seek for a loved one. This is simply living at home with little or no outside help. In general, physical and mental health is stable and affected adult doesn’t need any help accomplishing what we call “activities of daily living,” such as cooking, washing, doing laundry or using the bathroom.
  • Home care is the next step in the continuum. In this situation, a home care worker comes into the home and helps with cleaning, bathing and other chores. Getting this kind of help lets the older adult continue to live at home.
  • An adult day program bridges living at home (which one continues to do) and going to a center during the day where the person gets meals, medical and dental care (depending on the program) and participates in a variety of activities. Day programs are designed to help those who shouldn’t be left in the home along for long periods of time or a person who needs or desires company and interaction with others.
  • Assisted living is a facility where those who need help with some activities of daily living may choose to live. The facility provides help with things like taking medications or housekeeping. Alternatively, they can still do their own cooking and washing if they prefer.
  • Skilled nursing care is where some older or more disabled adults may need to live due to the need for extensive amounts of supervision needed to maintain health and safety. This is a total care environment where meals, assistance with activities of daily living, and socialization may occur. This is designed to help those who have care needs 24 hours a day.

For more detail on the continuum of care for older adults, I’ve made a video that provides more information about these care settings and others.

Patricia Litvak_2014_SmPatricia Litvak, MD, an expert in medical issues facing aging adults, is lead medical director at InnovAge



This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your health or medical needs.

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