When you, or a loved one, come to a point where senior housing is being considered as an option it is easy to be confused by the terminology. Understandably, many people don’t know the difference between Independent Living, Retirement Living, Assisted Living- let alone when health care professionals start throwing around acronyms: what’s a SNF? An AFH? And how do you know what’s right for you or your family member?

Those of us who work in this field are always happy to explain, and in fact, a lot of what we do when people visit our buildings is education regarding the choices available in senior living. But, if you’d like to be prepared before you begin navigating these options, read on!

When considering a move to senior housing, think about your needs, or the needs of your family member. Every day we do things to take care of ourselves; these things are called “Activities of Daily Living”, or ADL’s; they include: meal preparation, bathing, dressing, grooming, and leisure.

Medical needs are part of the aging experience of many; sometimes these become more than a person can manage themselves and support is needed. These needs can be part of a chronic condition or arise unexpectedly.

Social needs are also essential to consider! Research has linked being socially engaged with being mentally and physically healthy. It may become more difficult to stay involved in social groups as we age, so it is important to include social and spiritual activity in your plan for housing.

Financial needs are, unfortunately, a factor in considering senior housing, as well. Long term care can be expensive, and balancing the care you need with where you want to live requires careful evaluation of your budget, and may include a need for public assistance in the form of Medicaid.

There are five basic types of “senior housing” available:

  • In-Home Services: Support services include assistance with errands, companionship, activities of daily living (ADL’s), and other non-medical tasks. In-Home services serve people who want or need non-medical assistance in their home or a community living situation.  In-home services can range from a couple hours a week, to live-in care.
  • Independent Retirement Living: This option refers to any housing arrangement designed exclusively for seniors, generally age 55 and over. Housing varies widely, from apartment style living to freestanding homes. You may also hear the terms: retirement community, senior housing, or senior apartments. Independent Living serves seniors who want the advantage of a community environment, meals, housekeeping, and transportation but don’t anticipate needing assistance with ADL’s.
  • Assisted Living: These (AL) communities offer safety and security of 24 hour support and access to care. If you or your family member is having difficulty, or anticipates having difficulty with showering, dressing medication management, or other “ADL’s”, this option may be a good choice, as residents get the support they need while remaining as independent as possible. You can expect all the activities offered in Independent Living Communities, but with that additional support as needed. The staff in assisted living buildings is trained to provide support; in addition they are trained to observe residents to help ensure their health, safety, and well-being.
  • Adult Family Homes: These “homes” are literally residential homes licensed to provide professional care for up to six residents. They provide room, board, and help with ADL’s in a small setting. Adult Family Homes (AFH) typically serve seniors who need 24 hour care and supervision, including for individuals with dementia, Parkinson’s, strokes, special diets and hospice care.
  • Memory Care: Memory and Alzheimer’s care communities provide a secure environment with 24 hour care in which specific physical and mental needs of each individual are met. Support with ADL’s is provided, often at a higher level than is available in AL communities. Memory care is appropriate for people who need a secure environment, or constant checking to be safe. These communities are specially adapted for people with poor judgement, or tendencies to wander.
  • Skilled Nursing: Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) were referred to as “Nursing Homes” in the not too distant past; they provide assistance in ADL’s and offer a high level of medical care, as well. SNF’s serve long and short term patients, often for rehabilitation after a surgery or injury, or those who suffer from chronic health issues that are too complicated to be tended at home or in a community setting.

Here in Gig Harbor we are fortunate to have senior housing options at every level, so if you are curious about what is available I encourage you to reach out to any community and learn more!

Susan Pfundt is the Executive Director of Sound Vista Village, a Village Concepts Community in Gig Harbor, Washington. Her experience in Senior Living also includes several years as Program Coordinator, during which she developed a profound awareness of how attitude and lifestyle affect the experience of aging.