What’s the Difference between a Retirement Home and a Nursing Home?

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What’s the Difference between a Retirement Home and a Nursing Home?

by SarahD on August 6, 2011


Major Differences in Retirement Homes Vs. Nursing Homes

The answer to this question may seem rather obvious.  A retirement home is for individuals who have retired and no longer want all the obligations that come with regular home-ownership, while a nursing home is dedicated to elderly patients that require ongoing medical care.  What you may not realize is that there is some crossover between the two, and if you don’t know the details that separate them you could end up placing a beloved older family member in the wrong place.  You will need to consider not only how these settings differ, but how each one can cater to the individual needs of your elders.  Here are some tips to help you choose.

First, a distinction needs to be made between retirement homes and retirement communities.  A retirement community is a planned district that caters to the wants and needs of seniors by creating a neighborhood or series of neighborhoods, complete with common areas and activity centers geared towards entertaining retired (but still active) individuals and couples.  A retirement home, on the other hand, is generally a single building or a small complex of buildings that provide lodgings (usually apartments or condominiums) and services (food, cleaning, health services, etc.) to retirees.  The real difference is that within the retirement community, homeowners are still responsible for tending to all of their own needs, while those in a retirement home will have more direct access to services and care that they may not be able to manage on their own any longer.  But in either case, those who choose to live in these settings remain largely independent.

Nursing homes are quite different.  They are set up as care facilities for the elderly and they most often cater to seniors that have ongoing medical needs that they (or their families) cannot manage without professional help.  Each resident has a room (rather like a hospital room) and there are usually common areas and grounds for patients and visitors to utilize.  These homes are what is known as skilled nursing facilities (SNFs)and they are meant for individuals who simply cannot survive without the help of a staff of trained nurses, therapists, and even specialists (with at least one being an RN, or registered nurse).  Often, they also have doctors on call to cover severe cases or emergencies.

Another thing about nursing homes that many people don’t know is that they are not generally age-specific (although it is understood that they are for adults over the age of 18, not children).  While many patients in these facilities do tend to be elderly, there may also be younger residents who are recuperating from injury or illness, or simply need ongoing care that their families are incapable of providing.

So you can see that these facilities, while often meant to house the elderly, take very different approaches when it comes to what they provide and the sub-groups they cater to.  If your elderly relatives are more or less fit to manage their own lives, or they need just a little help with getting around and tending to their daily needs, then a retirement home is clearly a better choice.  But if they suffer from medical issues that need constant attention, a nursing home will definitely provide them with a higher level of care (albeit less privacy and independence).

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