Convalescent Home vs. Nursing Home: Which is Right for a Loved One?

August 1, 2022

Old age creates big changes. One of the significant adjustments focuses on health and wellbeing. Although not all older adults succumb to illnesses and injuries, greater attention is necessary to ensure safety. And greater attention will mean constant care.

When planning for long-term care for your parents, will they need a convalescent home or a nursing home?

What is a Convalescent Home?

Convalescent homes provide short-term care and recovery for people who are dealing with long-term illness or need special attention to recuperate after a surgery.

Patients aren’t just older adults but anyone who may have suffered from:

  • Burns
  • Trauma
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s
  • Aggressive arthritis
  • Stroke

Convalescent care falls into two categories: sub-acute and post-acute care. Sub-acute is when a person undergoes medical care for an illness or serious trauma, but they’ll still require further care or rehabilitation. Post-acute is for people who need transitional care from hospital to home. Depending on the condition of a patient, they may need nursing-led or complex care.

This is why you’ll see some convalescent care units as part of a hospital; other convalescent care services may be delivered in facilities functioning like a freestanding hospital, like a convalescent hospital.

What is the Difference Between a Nursing Home and a Convalescent Home?

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What a convalescent home does may sound a lot like what a nursing home provides. Both will provide 24/7 medical care with physicians, nurses and therapists. But the two are not one and the same.

A nursing home is designed to serve older adults whereas a convalescent home is for any patient at any age. But each facility’s clientele is not where the difference stops.

Nursing Homes

  • Patients typically stay in nursing longer than they would in convalescent care
  • Some patients may need permanent care
  • The goal is to help patients through their medical condition

Convalescent Homes

  • Patients stay a few weeks for short-term care
  • The goal is to help patients get back on their feet and be self-sufficient, allowing them to return home and to their usual activities

How Much Does a Convalescent Home Cost?

When you’ve determined that a convalescent home is the right choice for a loved one, now you’ve got to look at the cost. Looking after an older adult who needs short-term care at home may not be an option. Although it may seem financially better to take care of them on your own, the decision will disrupt your routine.

They will need a skilled nurse and access to medical equipment round the clock for a period. If your home isn’t equipped with the right tools and you don’t have the capabilities necessary for medical care, you must choose a convalescent home.

The cost of convalescent care differs from state to state as well the level of care. What you end up paying for isn’t just a matter of getting a private room versus a semi-private room for an aging parent.

The national median cost for a semi-private room at a facility is about $94,000 a year, or under $8,000 per month. A private room will cost over $100,000 annually, or over $9.000 every month. The cost will add up with the therapies your aging parent will need, from physical therapy to speech therapy.

If you live in Arkansas, you may pay about $6,000 per month for a semi-private room. But if you’re in New York, you’ll over $12,000 for the same type of room.

Future costs for convalescent and nursing care are going to be much higher.

What are Other Options for Older Adults?

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Some situations may not call for a nursing home or convalescent care. But your aging parent may want to move out of your old property and be someplace with access to amenities relevant to their condition. The following are some of your other options.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Continuing care retirement communities provide independent living for older adults. But these specialized communities also have medical and personal care services. Health care support may include physical therapy, memory care, mental health and nutritional counseling, dental care and other medical services.

These retirement communities also feature commercial services for its residents, like transportation, retail stores, restaurants and housekeeping, among others. Some of the best continuing care retirement communities will have a golf course, tennis courts and walking trails. Overall, this sort of living option is best for older adults whose health condition allows for independent living and have the financial capability to buy into a retirement community.

In-Home Care

In-home care, also called home health care, may cover nursing care, doctor care, medical social services and physical or occupational therapy.  It’s a health care service provided in your parents’ home, letting them recover or receive continual care in the familiarity of their property. This may be the most affordable option, but choosing it will depend on the condition of your parent. Some conditions require immediate access to hospital equipment.

Assisted Living

This form of living falls under continuing care retirement communities. Whether you’ve opted for a private room at the retirement community, assisted living provides your aging parents access to 24/7. This may include dressing, medication management, dressing and other daily activities.

Independent Living Apartments

Still under continuing care retirement communities, independent living apartments are simply housing arrangements exclusive to older adults. Some will be subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for low-income seniors.

How to Pick the Right Housing and Care for Parents

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A good starting point to choosing the right housing and level of care for your senior parents is to get a health checkup. If your parents have or parent has been showing signs of failing health, that they’re forgetting things they normally do and that being alone is affecting their quality of life, it may be time to look into special care.

But before you make any decision for them, have a discussion with them and the family. This decision must not be done by one person only, and it’s vital to include your aging parent in the process because it is their concern.

Determine if aging in place or assisted living is necessary

Unless it’s absolutely clear that your aging parent requires convalescent care, go through your options. Once you’ve picked in-home care, assisted living or independent living, consider the list of services. Address the following questions:

  • Will a maintenance-free life improve your parents’ life?
  • How will isolation or socialization affect them?
  • Do they have debilitating physical or mental illness?
  • Is their current home sufficient and safe for their needs and medical condition?
  • Will leaving their home affect them in any way?

Visit the establishments, talk to staff and find reviews

Never just rely on a nursing home, convalescent home or retirement community’s website for information. Every facility will provide a tour, but don’t stop there since the business will only show you the good side. Talk to the staff and find reviews about the place. Your aging parents must also visit the place, so they’ll know if they’ll feel right at home.

Think about the location as well if your picking a retirement community. You’ll want to make sure it’s easy to get to, so the family can visit.

Learn how the service or establishment works

Every facility or service provider works in different ways. No two convalescent home or home health care service works exactly alike. You must match the services of the provider and amenities of the facility to your aging parents’ needs, medical and personal.

Consider the costs

Ideally, you’ll have money set aside for long-term care. Hospital bills, medical assistance for continuing care and special equipment for temporary home use cost money. If your parents need continuing care, expenses will quickly pile and stress your finances without adequate funds.

The costs may be partly covered by insurance, Medicare or Medicaid and savings dedicated for health care. You can also look into senior benefits that may help pay for some of the costs.

If your parents prefer assisted or independent living in a retirement community, they could sell their property and use the funds to pay for their new housing. If selling the home isn’t an option and money is still short, look into a reverse mortgage. It allows you to borrow money against the value of your home without selling the property.

Convalescent Home or Nursing Home: Make it a Family Decision

Your parents have come to a point in their lives when further help is necessary. Whether they need temporary health care for an illness or injury, talk to them about the changes. It’s important for them to participate in the decision. Talk about the options and decide as a family.

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