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Senior Living vs. Assisted Living vs. Other Care Types: What's the Difference?

When it comes to senior care and senior living facilities in the Milwaukee area, you’ve got a lot of options to choose from and even more information to sift through.

One of the most common questions at this stage in life is a very simple one: what’s the difference between all these “care types” and how do I know what I or my loved one needs?

The main differentiators between types or tiers is what kind of help an individual senior needs to live comfortably, how often they need assistance, and what intensity. The more assistance a person requires, the higher the level of care and, effectively, the further into the continuum he or she goes.

However, how these tiers are defined and at what point a person transitions to another care type will differ, sometimes greatly, from facility to facility. Plus, it’s not always clear what kinds of assistance and services are available at each level. So, the following breakdown of care types is according to Regency Senior Communities’ own philosophy of care. 

Senior Living

Most senior living facilities or services are designed for active seniors who do not need day-to-day assistance and are solely looking to join a community of like-minded, similarly independent people. These people tend to be older adults who do not need any help managing themselves or their days, save for maybe the occasional helping hand or, potentially, some services that simply make life easier or more enjoyable, like light housekeeping or transportation.

In addition to providing apartments or residences with older adults’ lifestyle needs in mind—which can include safety precautions, emergency services, housekeeping services, and other safety or precautionary measures—senior communities also typically offer social and educational programs, wellness and physical activities, and convenience services.

For example, Regency’s senior living communities offer social events such as live music and entertainment and visits to the theatre or museum, wellness activities like yoga or aerobics classes or walking clubs, and services/amenities including media/computer rooms, worship centers, libraries, and other civic-centered offerings.

Supportive Care

The next step in the continuum is supportive care, which includes a residence and all the services provided in the senior living tier, but offers some day-to-day assistance in managing one’s home and self.

In Regency’s supportive care programs, this can include help with bathing and self-care needs, medication management, housekeeping and linen services, spousal care, and rehabilitation services—really anything a resident needs to be happy and healthy under our care, short of true assisted-living services.

The difference is in how often and how much assistance a person needs. When someone begins to require daily, scheduled assistance, we typically transition him or her to the assisted living tier.

Assisted Living

Assisted living can mean a lot of things, and most senior care providers will have a different definition of what constitutes “assisted living services.” Plus, many people use the term interchangeably with any number of other care types, or as a general moniker for senior care services as a whole, which only adds to the confusion surrounding this term.

Typically, assisted living refers to a senior care facility that provides its residents with regular, scheduled, and ongoing support with the following tasks, all of which Regency’s assisted living program also provides: 

  • Daily living activities (dressing, bathing, eating)
  • Minor medical needs (medication, doctor visits)
  • Housekeeping (bed-making, cleaning, supply stocking)
  • Daily health/wellness monitoring (disease risk, mental health, self-care)

Residents have a good deal of independence in that this daily support is just that—support and supervision for tasks an individual resident may be dealing with, rather than full-service living and lifestyle management. Some people in this tier may also require moderate assistance with daily living tasks like walking/getting around, hygiene and bathing, or eating and meal preparation.

Attended Care

Attended care, A.K.A. skilled care or sometimes custodial care (depending on a person’s unique combination of needs), is the highest level of care outside a formal nursing home. Attended care is a sort of extension of assisting living; a broader range of services is available, and staff will be more involved with the nuances of a resident’s day, such as taking an active role in assisting a person with dressing, bathroom needs, mobility/movement, wellness and positivity, and socializing. The person’s needs are met with an unscheduled, more personalized response as needs arise throughout the day.

At Regency, our attended care residents live in a private residence with their own furnishings. This ensures they receive privacy and personalized care and have access to around-the-clock assistance—no matter what he or she may need, at any time of day or night. The onsite staff is comprised of highly trained medical and senior-care professionals.

Attended Care residents also receive daily, full-service housekeeping/home-making and linen services so they can focus on personal health and wellness and enjoy some educational and entertaining activities.

Respite Care

Respite care differs a bit from other care types.

Rather than begin living in a care community with the intention of staying indefinitely, it’s known going in that the stay will be 28 days or fewer. (Twenty-eight days is Regency’s maximum number of days; other facilities’ policies will vary.) Respite care is a highly personalized, person-to-person program, so many of the service offerings will depend on an individual’s needs.

This option is for seniors who need short-term care following surgery or illness, those who need more help than an in-home provider can handle, or for people whose caregivers need a few weeks off for professional obligations, vacation time, or personal responsibilities. Regency’s respite care program is also useful for those seniors who want to test out a facility for a few days before committing to living there.

At the end of the day, what matters most is you and/or your loved ones are living somewhere that feels safe, supportive, and welcoming, which means needs of any kind are attended to, and the people attending to them truly care about their residents’ health and wellbeing.

Seniors who move to a community that offers a full continuum of care options—and therefore offers everything they may need medically, physically, emotionally, and socially as they and their needs change—have the benefit of knowing they won’t have to move again, that they are truly moving home.