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Assisted Living vs. Skilled Nursing in Maryland: What's the Difference?

More than 100,000 of Maryland’s 1.2 million seniors have dementia. Many more suffer from chronic ailments such as cardiovascular disease and mobility impairment. The state’s senior population is projected to grow by 40 percent between now and 2030. The state is working to respond to the needs of this growing population, and Maryland is home to some of the nation’s best senior living communities.

If your loved one needs help with daily tasks or struggles with serious chronic ailments, you may be confused by the array of senior living options. Assisted living and skilled nursing care—sometimes known as a nursing home—are distinct care options, and seniors who are good candidates for one are usually not good candidates for the other. Here’s what you need to know about choosing the right community for your loved one.

What Is Assisted Living?

Assisted living offers help with daily tasks, sometimes called activities of daily living, such as grooming, bathing, or getting dressed. Most assisted living communities endeavor to keep seniors as independent as possible, and offer a wide range of activities, special programs, and even community outings. The focus is on supporting the whole person, not just tending to their medical needs. Seniors living in assisted living may spend much of their days engaged in community activities. Assisted living communities also typically offer private rooms.

While assisted living communities can support seniors with complex medical needs, these communities do not offer medical care. Some seniors in assisted living spend brief periods of time in nursing care following an injury or health crisis. For example, a senior who breaks a hip may stay in skilled nursing until they can walk again, then transition back to assisted living.

Most seniors remain in assisted living for many years, especially if they are in good health.

What Is Skilled Nursing?

In Maryland, skilled nursing facilities are licensed to provide medical care and support to seniors with complex medical needs. For example, a senior who needs injections for diabetes, who must use a catheter, and who struggles with dementia might be a good fit for a skilled nursing facility.

While these facilities do offer some activities, the primary focus is on preserving residents’ health and safety—not promoting new hobbies and friendships. In many skilled nursing facilities, seniors have roommates and spend most if not all of their time in their rooms.

A stay in skilled nursing may be short, lasting only a few weeks as a senior seeks rehabilitation. In some cases, a senior may remain in skilled nursing for many months. Multiyear skilled nursing stays are relatively uncommon, since seniors living in nursing homes are often very ill.

Which Option Is Right for My Loved One?

Assisted living might be a good choice if your loved one:

  • Needs help with daily activities but does not need 24/7 care.
  • Feels unsafe living alone but does not need constant supervision.
  • Is stubbornly independent, and does not want to be “put in a home.”
  • Continues to be active and socially engaged, and wants to live somewhere that supports ongoing engagement.
  • Wants good food, plenty to do, and luxury amenities.
  • Has a chronic health condition that requires periodic support.

Skilled nursing may be the right choice for your loved one if:

  • They have very complex medical needs or have recently suffered a serious injury or medical crisis.
  • They need assistance 24/7.
  • They cannot be safely left alone.
  • They are not very independent, and your primary concern is keeping them safe, not keeping them active and stimulated.
  • They already live in assisted living and recently suffered a serious injury.

It’s important to know that most seniors do not need skilled nursing. Quality assisted living communities can support most seniors’ efforts to remain safe and reasonably independent. A nursing home is a last resort, and is only appropriate for a senior who truly needs constant medical support and supervision.

The Arbor Company is on a mission to revolutionize senior living. We believe that every senior deserves a fulfilling retirement, and we are working to ensure that that’s what they get. Our communities cater to a wide variety of seniors, and our assisted living communities offer unparalleled support. We can help you review your options, and make recommendations based on your loved one’s needs. Give us a call to learn more!

Jennifer Fenton

About the Author: Jennifer Fenton

Jennifer’s professional experience in senior care spans 20 years but her drive to serve seniors started when she was 5 volunteering at the local nursing home. After graduating from University of Maryland with a degree in Family Studies and Gerontology she began helping families through the transitioning to a community lifestyle. She has spent time as a Senior Care Counselor, Senior Living Advisor, Admissions Director and the Director of Community Relations in skilled nursing facilities and assisted livings. She is a Certified Senior Advisor and during her free time she enjoys volunteering with her daughter and her Pets on Wheels dog, Clementine.

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If senior living has ever crossed your mind, you owe it to yourself to learn more about Arbor Terrace.