When discussing care facilities, people often use the terms “nursing home,” “retirement home,” “senior housing” and “assisted living” interchangeably, which can make choosing a community more confusing. In fact, each of these terms refers to a specific type of housing and care level.

The terminology can be frustrating for families as they attempt to discuss and plan for long-term care. Understanding the different facility types can alleviate some confusion.

Independent living

People may refer to independent living facilities as retirement communities or senior apartments. They are ideal for seniors who are capable of living on their own but prefer the social interaction and low maintenance of community living. These facilities feature private housing, including apartments, town houses and homes, with full kitchens but typically do not offer medical care.

Personal care

Personal care homes provide shelter, meals, supervision and assistance with personal care tasks. They usually provide 3 meals per day and help with medications. Personal care may also include different levels of care, such as help with bathing, incontinence, memory impairment or dementia

Assisted living

Assisted living facilities are long-term, residential facilities. They are best for people who need help with daily tasks of living like bathing, dressing and incontinence. Assisted living provides meals, housekeeping, laundry services and medication management. In Pennsylvania, each living unit must contain certain amenities, such as a door that locks and an emergency notification system as well as a full bathroom. Assisted living facilities must have a licensed nurse on duty or on call and a registered dietician. They do not usually provide intensive medical care.

Skilled nursing

Skilled nursing facilities, or nursing homes, are primarily medical facilities. Residents typically need around-the-clock medical care. Ideally, these facilities provide short-term care after an illness or injury until the patient is able to return to independent living, personal care or assisted living. However, patients may remain in the facilities indefinitely if their conditions do not improve.

The array of options may seem overwhelming, but finding the perfect fit is well worth the effort.