At first blush, the differences between home care and assisted living are clear. Whether planning your retirement or that of a loved one, you'll likely encounter these two options. But that doesn't mean you'll be able to make an informed decision without doing some comparative research.
Beyond the evident — home care taking place in the home and assisted living being a retirement community that resident move into — there are a range of considerations to weigh, like those related to total costs, quality and level of health services and personal independence, to ensure a high quality of living.
Take the time to understand what separates these two arrangements, as it will ultimately identify the best option for you or a loved one.
What is home care?
As the name might indicate, home care is when professionals, often registered nurses or gerontology specialists, visit the residence of the senior to provide assistance and medical care. Also known as aging in place, this style of retirement care has become increasingly popular because it allows seniors to stay in the comfort of their homes and not have to travel to receive care. Typically, an attendant might come during the day and stay until evening. They'd provide services like bathing assistance or medication management, as well as help complete chores like cleaning or picking up groceries.
However, despite the attractiveness for seniors of not having to leave their homes, there are some limitations and disadvantages with home care:
- More care may be needed: A senior's health needs may require a nurse to move in to provide around-the-clock, immediate care. The likelihood of care needs becoming greater as a senior ages complicates the situation for those at home: Essentially, they'll have to continually find and pay for increasing levels of care. This can become a particular challenge for families and retirees if dementia/Alzheimer's care is later needed.
- Isolation risks are greater: The advantages of home are powerful, but sometimes the downsides are of the same scale. Becoming too much of a creature of comfort can lead to isolating behavior. Even if seniors aren't total shut-ins, the pull of home can often make it harder and harder to eventually get social stimulation. Regular visits from a nurse or family members might not be enough.
- Travel is still needed for many things: If seniors have to go to the hospital for imaging or other procedures, or even go to the salon to get a haircut, they'll need to find their way there. Family might not always be available to drive, and some retirees may not have a car or license anymore.
- Family aren't professionals: Multigenerational homes often mean family pitches in to help care for grandpa or grandma. However well-meaning those intentions are, family members are usually neither professional caregivers, nor able to take on the job full-time without significant costs of time and money.
What is assisted living?
Assisted living is similar to home care in some respects, but starkly different in others. For instance, while seniors in assisted living may get the same type of care (e.g. bathing and dressing assistance) as those at home, there are not as many barriers to scaling up that level of care if more involved services are required. There's no risk of a day nurse having to call off sick and scrambling to arrange a substitute either, as seniors are perennially in the care of qualified, competent and compassionate staff.
The differences between home care and assisted living can also be seen in the comparably lower isolation risks of living in a thriving retirement community with immediate access to amenities and services (like a pharmacy or salon) and regular opportunity for personal enrichment.
But what about cost?
Perhaps the most scrutinized factor shared between home care and assisted living is the cost. Many opt for home care because the upfront cost of moving into a community may give seniors and their families pause. Indeed, assisted living may represent greater costs in the near term, but the potential for savings is also greater compared to home care.
Home care costs involve much more than just those related to the actual health care. Retirees have to understand their expenses will also include mortgage costs, property taxes, utilities, groceries and transportation — at the least. By contrast, assisted living will fold all these costs into the package of care services and amenities residents receive from the community. There are no fees for landscaping, home maintenance, emergency communication or even trash removal, which paints a much different picture for total costs than home care does. This infographic compares more costs associated with aging in place, including meals, caregivers, and travel expenses.
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