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Independent Living, Assisted Living or Long Term Care? Tips to Help You Decide

Cathy Gordon, February 11, 2013


There are many different kinds of retirement communities and residences. Even within a single category like “independent living”, there will be many options. This article will help you understand the main differences between independent living, assisted living, and long term care.

Independent Living

In this kind of residence you have many options in terms of lifestyle. Usually, an independent living community will be a residence with apartments, or a group of detached houses. Meals are provided at a dining room, but your suite is equipped with kitchen facilities so you may prepare your own as well. Chores, such as vacuuming or lawn care, are usually handled by the staff.  Additional services can be purchased as required.  There will be some social activities arranged for the community.

Assisted Living

This kind of residence has medical staff on hand—usually a nurse or personal support workers, a wellness nurse —as well as other support staff who can help you with personal tasks such as dressing and bathing. Medications will usually be distributed on a daily basis so the staff can ensure everyone is getting their prescriptions. Other options like physiotherapy may also be available as well as social activities daily.  Other services can be added and arranged for purchase.

Long-Term Care

This kind of community is only available if a doctor has determined the individual cannot live independently. Chronic or acute illness that cannot be managed in an assisted living facility will generally necessitate this kind of care. These residences will typically allow significantly fewer personal belongings and furnishings—the rooms are always equipped with a bed. You can usually bring some furniture like a dresser and a favorite chair.

How to Choose

The choice will depend on what your needs are, and what is available to you. Obviously, long-term care is only available at a doctor's discretion. However, you can still choose assisted living if that option suits you best. Similarly, if you choose independent living you may find that you can transfer into assisted living within the same facility when the time comes. It depends how active you are, and how much help you want or need. An active individual who is capable of handling all of their personal hygiene, but just wants to give up the responsibilities of maintaining a home would probably choose an independent living community. Meanwhile, a person who has difficulty getting out of bed or the bath may prefer to move into assisted living. Typically, we see many seniors whose partners have been their caregivers, and when their spouse passes away they move into assisted, or long-term care. Some people's medical needs can only be properly managed in a long-term care facility, so always consult with a doctor.

The level of independence or care you want or need, will determine what kind of retirement community or residence will suit you best. Research local residences, or consult with experts, gather as much information as you can so you can make an educated decision.

Written by Cathy Gordon

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