Newbie Caregiver Guide to Different Types of Elder Care Facilities and Services

Types of elder care facilities
Guide to Different Types of Senior Care Facilities. 

Respite Care or Skilled Nursing Care--What is the Difference?

Are you a new caregiver? Are you a bit overwhelmed by the many different types of elder care facilities and services you see advertised?

You aren't alone. Even seasoned caregivers sometimes get confused when it comes time to choose the most appropriate place for their elderly loved one.

In this guide, I hope to clarify the basics of the many types of senior care options available to you. From here, you can choose to research the most relevant services for your individual situation.

Elder Care Services:

Even if you caregive in your own home, you are not alone. There are a range of services that help the elderly when they live by themselves or with family.

Family Caregiver

That is you! (sometime this can be a friend as well.) The family caregiver is the person who takes on the responsibility of caring for an elderly relative either in their own home, in the home of their loved one, or even from a distance.

Distance caregivers routinely check in on their relative via phone, internet or physical visits as often as needed, and provide a certain number of care tasks if needed. In some instances, a family caregiver may have sole responsibility for a senior's physical, medical, legal, and financial well-being.

Home Companion

An elder companion is a person who sits with the elderly for an alotted time each day (just like a babysitter). They may also take the elderly places they need to go, do some housekeeping, and maybe even cook. They are not usually medically trained--their job is to keep the elderly company while helping them with certain tasks.

Companions are often employed when the elder either has no one to care for them, or they have caregivers who cannot be with them 24/7.

Respite Care

Respite Care is simply a break for a caregiver from his or her job. Respite caregivers may be other family members, friends, neighbors, or community volunteers. There are also agencies that employ trained caregivers that you can hire.

Respite care is not full-time. Usually, this service is used when you need a break, for a few hours or a full day. They are like home companions, but respite care is not usually a daily thing--rather, it is a replacement for you so that you can take time to do something for yourself. It is also beneficial for the senior, since they get to interact with a new face for awhile.

Respite care services are also provided at certain facilities, such as assisted living. This makes them similar to adult day care, in that you take your loved one to the facility for a few hours. However, it is not a daily routine like adult daycare.

Home Health Care

Home Health is a hired service. Home health workers come to the home of the elderly and perform medical assessments and/or custodial care (personal care such as bathing). Usually, nurses will come to the home to check vitals, change would dressings, or administer certain medications.

Home health aides will come to help with certain care tasks, such as bathing, dressing, etc.

Adult Day Care

This is similar to respite care, except that it is not in-home. Adult day care takes place at centers and facilities specially designed for seniors.

These places usually watch your loved one during your working hours, and provide them with activities, exercise, meals, naps, and socialization. They also have nursing staff to monitor your loved ones health.

Some facilities may offer more medical supervision than others, and may be called Adult Day Health Care.


This is a specialized nursing field. Hospice workers are trained to take care of your loved one if they are dying or suffering from a terminal illness. There are hospice facilities, but hospice also comes to hospitals, your home, or any nursing facility to provide care.

Newbie Caregiver Guide to Different Types of Elder Care Facilities and Services
Home health nurses visit the elderly in-home 

Elder Care Facilities: 

Standard nursing homes for everyone are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Today, your loved one has many options. Even though there are several different types of Long Term Care facilities, they fall into two basic categories: With medical supervision, or without medical supervision.

The line gets a bit blurry too, since some set-ups provide a combination of both types of living.

Independent Living 

Rather than being a skilled facility, independent living is a way for seniors to age in place. These set-ups provide rental units dispersed over a campus.

Depending on the facility, it may offer customizable options for different living arrangements. Some offer cleaning services, dining and laundry services.

The units may be apartments or even full houses, all located in a community. The point is to allow seniors to live in a safe environment, where they can have access to social activities and transportation, but still have assistance (if wanted) with home management tasks).

Independent living communities may also retirement communities or CCRC ( Continued Care Retirement Community)


This type of care facility provides the best of all worlds. Starting with low-level independent living units, and progressing to skilled nursing facilities. A Continuing Care Retirement Community allows your loved one to age in place as part of a community no matter how their needs change over the years.

The elderly can begin by living independently in their own apartments or homes. As their needs increase, so does the amount of care provided bu the CCRC.

These communities offer a host of advantages:

  • Spouses and lifetime partners can live together
  • Future care needs are already planned out. 
  • Transportation
  • Social activities
  • Monitored aging in place

Assisted Living

Assisted living usually follows independent living. These facilities offer help with activities of daily living, such as dressing and bathing, but the residents are not under 24/7 medical supervision as they would be in a skilled nursing home.

Assisted living facilities provide the opportunity for the resident to live as independently as possible. However, there will be staff available at all times to help with housekeeping, laundry, meals, etc. There will also be nurses and aides available at certain times to help with medication and other health needs.

Skilled Nursing

A skilled nursing facility may also be called a Long-Term Care Facility. They are usually known as just nursing homes.

These centers are needed for elders who can no longer live independently, or who can no longer be cared for at home or in other types of elder care facilities. Nursing homes always have a nurse on shift, as well as aides, to help with everything from activities of daily living to basic medical treatments.

Depending on the nursing home, they may also have physical therapy and hospice services. Situations that most often qualify a person for skilled nursing include:

  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Advanced stage Alzheimer's
  • Physical disabilities
  • Mental disabilities
  • Terminal illnesses or conditions that require constant supervision

Caregivers often choose to relocate their loved ones to an SNF when they develop several needs that make it no longer practical to care for them in the home. (For example: someone with dementia who has choking issues and requires a catheter).

Memory Care or Dementia Care

These are specialized units that focus solely on caring for those with dementia or Alzheimer's. They are sometimes separate, but often part of a larger LTC facility.

Convalescent Care

A place where people recovering from a long-term illness, certain medical treatments or injuries stay while recovering. These more home-like than hospitals. Unlike nursing homes, these centers provide short-term care for the time needed to convalesce.

Sometimes CC may be included as part of a nursing homes features.

Board and Care Homes

These are residences in private homes or neighborhoods where a small number of seniors may live and receive assistance with activities of daily living.

These are basically assisted living facilities, but are much smaller and usually set up in houses rather than buildings built specifically for residential care. They do not provide nursing care.

May also be called an Adult Care home or a Group home.

Other Terms You May Hear

  • Custodial Care--Another term for a skilled nursing home
  • Long Term Care Facility--may be used to describe any elder care facility
  • Residential Care--Any care where a person becomes a resident of a senior care facility or  community
  • Special Care Units--Usually refers to the Memory Care/Dementia Care units.
  • Inpatient Rehabilitation Center (IRF)--another term for convalescent care. 
  • Congregate Care--the same as assisted living
  • Mixed or Integrated Care Facility--sometimes used to refer to nursing homes that care for the elderly as well as developmentally disabled adults of all ages. 
  • Adult Foster Homes--Board and Care homes
  • Residential Care Home--Board and Care home
  • Retirement Community--A term that describes all independent living communities

Many terms for care facilities and services are interchangeable. Some are only used in certain circumstances or regions.

Before making a decision on the best long-term care option for your loved one, be sure to assess state licensing, care level needs, and insurance requirements--as all of these will vary from state-to-state, person-to-person, and facility -to-facility.