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Different care facilities for different needs

Michael Farrell
Staff Photo |

For many seniors, understanding what the many types of existing care facilities actually offer can be a challenge. Add to that the fact that what each type offers is not consistent from state to state, and things can get downright confusing.

I’d like to review some of the differences, keeping in mind I’ll be talking about facilities within the state of Colorado.

Adult day programs provide a place where seniors and those with disabilities can go for the day. Older adults can sometimes find themselves more or less homebound, spending a lot of time alone, especially if their caregiver has to work. The object is to provide a safe and stimulating environment where participants can socialize and take part in activities.



This kind of program helps people to continue living in their homes while remaining active and making new friends. This also allows the caregiver to have free time to go shopping, run other errands or just have a break. Meals and snacks are usually provided, and medication administration is provided if needed.

Respite care is available for those needing a temporary place to stay. Often this is for a person just released from the hospital, who needs extra care for a limited time before returning home. Or perhaps a caregiver is taking a business trip or vacation and will be away for a while. Generally respite care is for less than one month.



Adult day programs and respite care may be paid for privately, through long-term care insurance or by Medicaid in some cases.

Senior apartments are rental units for seniors that generally do not provide any type of support services, however, residents may receive services from home-care agencies. Apartments may be subsidized to keep rent affordable for low-income elderly individuals and people with disabilities.

An assisted living facility is a full-time, live-in residence for seniors who need some help with day-to-day living. The care provided is limited in scope. Usually, a resident must be able to get out of bed and move to a wheelchair or walker on their own. Three meals a day, 24 hour staffing, medication administration, social and physical activities, laundry and housekeeping, and some personal care services are usually provided. The specifics of each service offered varies with each community. The underlying idea is to facilitate as much independence as possible.

Assisted living situations are generally less expensive than a nursing home. Some assisted living facilities will offer a greater degree of custodial care for an additional cost. In some cases this can allow a resident to avoid or delay moving to a nursing home. Some communities accept Medicaid, but many accept only private pay or long-term care insurance.

A nursing home, or skilled nursing facility, is oriented for seniors in need of ongoing nursing care or rehabilitation following an acute care stay in a hospital. A greater degree of custodial care is offered, including feeding, bathing and transferring someone who is immobile from their bed to a wheelchair or into a shower. Nurses will usually be on site 24 hours a day, and other medical professionals, including physical and occupational therapists, will often be on staff. This is the highest level of care available for seniors outside of a hospital.

Nursing home stays may be covered by private funds, long-term care insurance, Medicaid or Medicare in some circumstances.

Some communities offer more than one type of care. Mesa Vista started out as an assisted living facility, but now also has an adult day program, respite care and subsidized senior apartments. The adult day program members mingle freely with the residents in activities, trips and meals, and take advantage of the amenities. Likewise, senior apartment residents may join in the social life and activities if they wish, or have the option to keep to themselves. They also can sign up for a meal plan so they don’t have to cook or buy groceries. All residents may keep a vehicle on-site if they still drive.

As our population ages, it is essential to understand the differences between the types of care available and the types of care a particular setting provides.

Michael Farrell is the activity director and adult day program director at Mesa Vista Assisted Living in Battlement Mesa. He can be reached at mfarrell@seniorhousingoptions.org.


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