Here are some common questions (and answers to those questions) that caregivers often have about skilled nursing, also known as nursing homes.

What exactly is skilled nursing?

Skilled nursing homes are residences designed to house and assist individuals who have health conditions that require constant monitoring and availability of medical personnel. Skilled nursing facilities, also known as nursing homes or extended care services, provide 24-hour supervision, meals, activities and health management support for their residents. Some senior living communities offer designated residences and specialized care for people with Alzheimer's or dementia.

What's the difference between skilled nursing and assisted living?

While nursing homes provided the highest level of care for seniors outside of a hospital, assisted living is best for seniors who need some help with bathing, dressing, toileting, grooming, and eating, but do not require 24-hour-a-day health care by doctors.

When it is time to consider a nursing home for your parents?

  • Both medical and personal care needs have become too great to handle at home or in another senior living community. This may be due to a recent hospitalization, or a chronic illness which has gradually been worsening.
  • Your parent needs a higher level of care temporarily after a hospitalization, but it's anticipated you will be able to return to home or another facility after a period of time.

What can mom or dad bring with them?

The skilled nursing facility will provide all of the furniture your elderly parent needs in their apartment. However, to make it feel like home, most skilled nursing centers encourage residents to bring personal items such as family photos, a familiar bedspread, and treasured knickknacks.

If possible, visit the skilled nursing home before your parent moves in, so you can see the physical layout, sizes of the rooms, amount of closet space and any furniture or household items that are included. Obtain a list from the residence of suggested items to bring, as well as a floor plan.

What safety measures are in place?

One of several reasons people decide that elders with chronic health problems are better off in a nursing home than in their own homes is safety. The obvious point of safety in nursing homes has always been that there are trained professionals on the spot in case of a fall, medication reaction or other health issue. However, with advances in technology, nursing homes have advanced in safety measures over and above what they once provided.

For example, cameras in entrances and locked security systems keep nursing home staff informed about people who come and go. Good nursing homes want to encourage visitors and need to keep security as unobtrusive as possible in order to offer a home-like atmosphere, while still maintaining a safe environment for residents.

Read More: Nursing Home Safety

What happens if an elder has an emergency?

Staff and trained personal are available 24 hours a day to handle emergency situations. Skilled nursing facilities have arrangements with local hospitals and health care professionals for assistance with emergencies.

Are there social activities?

Yes. Skilled nursing residences have a full calendar of activities and social events for residents, including art classes, ice cream socials, bingo and game night, prayer service, movie night and guest speakers. In addition, many have wellness centers, swimming pools, beauty parlors, restaurant-style dining and other amenities that make the skilled nursing facility feel more like resort living.

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How big are the rooms?

The size and layout varies from nursing home to nursing home. For example, some rooms may be private and others shared. Rooms may have their own bathroom, or they may be shared with others. The best way to determine for yourself if a skilled nursing residence is the best place for your parent is to schedule a personal visit to tour the facility. You might be surprised at how nice the accommodations really are.

Can couples live together?

In some skilled nursing facilities, yes, couples can live together. Assisted living facilities, skilled nursing and memory care residences offer options for couple to live in the same residence, while each receives the care they need, and pays for only the services they need.

Read More: Couples Can Live Together in Senior Housing

Are pets allowed?

Check with the facility you are considering and ask them about pet policies. Some residences have pets on site that all of the residents can enjoy and interact with.

Is it true that once someone is admitted to a nursing home they never leave?

No, that is not true. Some illnesses or injuries have progressed to the point where both ongoing medical and custodial care may be necessary through the end of life. However, many people encounter a nursing home for the first time after a sudden hospitalization, such as from a fall or stroke. After rehabilitative care, the person will be able to return home, or consider an independent living community or assisted living.

Why are there so many horror stories about nursing homes?

There are many misconceptions about nursing homes. Years ago, nursing homes were sterile, hospital-like settings with narrow hallways and small shared rooms where people went to die. But modern nursing homes are just the opposite. Today's skilled nursing residences offer restaurant-style dining, a full calendar of social activities, a large, pleasant environments, private rooms – and the peace of mind that comes with knowing medical health is just a call-button away.

How much does skilled nursing cost?

The cost of skilled nursing varies depending on where you live, what level of care is provided and what type of accommodations you choose. Most seniors do not usually meet their long-term care needs from any one source. Instead a combination of support—private funds, long-term care insurance and government assistance is used to foot the bill.

Medicare covers post-hospital, short-term skilled care only—and may not cover the cost of ongoing nursing home care. For low-income seniors who meet eligibility requirements, Medicaid might pay a portion of the cost.