What's the Difference With Levels of Care in Assisted Living?

Senior living can provide care and options for older adults who live with different challenges and preferences. Assisted living “levels of care” refers to how much assistance a person needs with activities of daily living (ADLs) as well as management of one’s health. Each of these assisted living levels of care features a different cost, as well as a different amount of hands-on care. Today's seniors are fortunate to have a variety of solutions to suit their needs, but so many choices can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed. If you have made the decision that you may need assisted living, you now need to educate yourself about the multiple levels of care within your assisted living community. 

Knowing about the varying levels of care will help you form excellent questions to ask when touring communities, as well as know what supports are available to you or your loved one as the years pass. Although levels of care can be unique to each assisted living community, these three categories will give you perspective into what to expect and a framework for tailoring your questions during your next meeting or tour.

Why Levels of Care?

Assisted living, although regulated across state guidelines, is not as heavily regulated as skilled nursing facilities, once called nursing homes. Instead, assisted living communities are able to offer excellent care in a less clinical environment. Residents experience peace of mind without sterile linoleum floors and receive professional assistance without feeling like they are living in a hospital environment.

Help with bathing, grooming, eating, medication, mobility or incontinence are all examples of activities of daily living that a senior might need assistance with. Assisted living “levels of care” refers to how much assistance a person needs with these activities of daily living, as well as management of one’s health.

Levels of care also allow residents in the assisted living community to age in place longer, as they are able to receive more care while in their apartment and community. Gone are the days when people moved out of assisted living and into skilled nursing quickly due to chronic pain or complex medical conditions. Instead, levels of care allow for residents to safely and happily live in their assisted living apartments longer than usual.

Levels of care allow assisted living administrators to hire the staff they need to give the assistance residents require. For example, an assisted living community that has more residents who require assistance to get to and from the dining room three times per day needs to hire more caregivers than a community that has residents who walk on their own to meals. Dividing residents into categories, or levels of care, based on their needs allows administrators to have the staff available to offer those solutions.

Have questions about assisted living? Download our The Complete Guide to  Assisted Living.

Types of Levels of Care

Most states do not dictate levels of care within the assisted living industry. This means it is up to each community to outline levels of care, along with the needs that make up each level. Generally, it is common to find communities that feature two to four levels of care within assisted living, including residential living, skilled nursing, memory care, assisted living, and rehabilitation.

Lower Levels of Care

Lower levels of care typically are for residents who need minimal assistance. These residents can ambulate without assistance, whether walking on their own, with an assistive device, or with a wheelchair. Residents have no memory loss and are able to make their preferences known. They may need some help fastening buttons while getting ready in the morning, and use help while showering, but are otherwise independent in their daily hygiene and care. They are able to manage their toileting needs, even if they do require incontinence products. Nurses manage their medications and even take blood sugar levels or perform other regular tests at the community, but the resident does not require complex medical monitoring.

Higher Levels of Care

Higher levels of care are for residents who need more hands-on assistance from caregivers. These residents may not be able to ambulate independently and need help walking or wheeling from one place to another. Residents need more extensive help dressing, bathing, or managing their toileting or incontinence. These residents may exhibit some signs of memory loss and require more verbal or physical cueing to make decisions or manage their day successfully. Finally, these residents may require some complex medical monitoring or assistance managing chronic pain, and they could have increased fall risks or other safety concerns.

Memory Care

Finally, assisted living communities often feature memory care units, which function as a higher level of care designed for seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. These environments were built from the ground up to help seniors with memory loss succeed and feel at home. Activities are failure-free and dining programs emphasize dignity. Staff members receive additional and ongoing specialized training in dementia care and often lead support groups or educational opportunities for family members as well.

Next Steps

If you are pursuing assisted living as a viable option for you or your loved one, take time to talk about levels of care during your tour. Most assisted living communities will assess potential residents in order to make a guess about their initial level of care needs. Use this information not only to plan for your initial costs, but also to gauge your future costs based on any decline due to medical conditions.

We have decades of experience working with family members and seniors in assisted living. Learn from our experience by downloading our Complete Guide to Assisted Living, where you can discover even more useful information to help you make the best decision possible for you or a loved one.

Download our comprehensive guide to learn more about assisted living today!

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