For most senior citizens and their family members there comes a time when they decide they no longer want or are able to live independently at home. They may have trouble doing daily tasks or they may desire to live in a community with other seniors. With family members moving away from hometowns, jobs and other responsibilities, it can be difficult to care for a senior at home, however, there are many options and usually families can find one that works best for their elderly relative. While it is a very difficult decision family members face, there are many more options for seniors today than there were for them in the past. Seniors can choose from independent living communities with no assistance all the way to skilled nursing with twenty-four hour assistance depending upon their needs.

The independent senior who lives in a single-family residence can choose to move to an apartment or condominium. Many couples and singles choose to downsize later in life even before retirement. An apartment or condo offers many benefits to them. The building may be comprised of a small number of units or may be a large unit building. Living in a building with other units allows for daily interaction with neighbors and a feeling of community. Another benefit of the interaction with neighbors is knowing they can alert family members or authorities if there is the need. This applies to younger individuals also but can provide family members of the senior with the peace of mind that others are around their family member and can be there when they possibly cannot. Many services are already provided such as lawn care, care of the building, snow removal if in a cold area and in an apartment, repairs inside the unit. Apartments are a flat monthly rate and condos typically charge a monthly fee for these services and the services provided can vary greatly from community to community. Transportation and physical needs are not provided with either option but can be provided by family members, friends or a company.

Another option for an independent senior is a retirement community with age restrictions. These communities are apartments with a monthly rental fee similar to any apartment community but they only allow residents of a certain age. The age can vary from community to community as can the services provided. Some may offer meals, activities, transportation and other services while others may not. It is important to tour many of these facilities to choose the one that fits the individual's needs. Most of the time there are no medical staff on site but there may be a button or cord in the room that notifies the manager on duty that the resident needs assistance and they can notify the family or emergency services as needed. A great benefit of these communities is that everyone is a similar age and tend to have similar life experience to form bonds between the residences.

When a senior needs or wants a higher level of care but does not need the traditional nursing home with twenty four hour care there are independent or assisted living facilities. When touring these facilities, frequently one cannot tell the difference between the two, the difference may be the state licensing. When touring facilities, one must find out the classification of the facility. If federal or state benefits will be used, frequently the individual cannot be in an independent living facility. These facilities are also apartment in style but offer daily checkups on the residents, meals and other services. Some may also offer multiple checkups per day on each resident. The checkup can be as a simple as the resident flipping a flag on the wall outside their door or a staff member speaking with the resident. Another type of checkup is to see them at meals. If the checkup is not a personal interaction, like flipping the flag, and the resident does not perform the task to allow staff to know they are well, the staff may try to telephone the resident. If they do not reach them, they have keys to every room and will enter the unit to checkup on them. Some facilities offer two meals a day while others offer all three meals. The services at the facilities vary from location to location so it is important that many locations are toured. Seniors can choose from a variety of sizes of residences at both communities from studio style to three bedrooms. Some have full kitchens while others only have a refrigerator and microwave. Since meals are typically provided at least twice a day, the senior does not have the need to prepare many meals. Many seniors will choose to have lunch and dinner in the dining hall and eat an easy to prepare breakfast. Dining options are designed to give the senior the option that works best for them. There are typically a wide variety of activities ranging from bingo to day trips. Transportation is provided to doctor's appointments, grocery stores and other retail locations. Housekeeping is also provided in all units at most facilities. Services that are not provided with the general fee can be contracted with in house private duty or done by family members. This would include things such as a laundry and medication management but in reality, any service the individual needs can be done through private duty. The rooms are equipped with emergency call buttons or cords for the resident to alert the staff that immediate assistance is needed. Almost all facilities allow family members to visit at any time although the building is usually locked at night and security, a staff member, or a swipe card may be needed late at night to allow family access to the building.

The most care intensive facilities are skilled nursing or nursing homes. These facilities provide twenty-four hour care with nurses and nurse's assistants assigned to patients. One can choose between a private room or a shared room. Some facilities may have up to four residents in a room. Frequently families have to try to balance what they are financially capable of paying and what is best suited for the individual. Many seniors at this stage may really desire a private room while others enjoy a roommate. It is important to keep in mind the benefits of a good roommate even if the senior desires a private room. Having a room mate keeps them socially involved and alert. Some nursing homes have separate units for patients with cognitive difficulties, such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. These units are locked to assure the safety of the residents. Not all facilities separate these residents from the other residents so one must enquire about this when touring a facility. All meals are provided in a dining room but can be taken in their room if they are not feeling well or desire to eat in their room. Activities are provided at these facilities ranging from bingo to book readings to music. Socialization is extremely important because it is easy for an individual to become depressed in a nursing home. A doctor usually visits each patient once a month and the doctor's nurse practitioner may visit weekly. The facilities frequently have other health care providers, such as ophthalmologists and dentists, visit the site at various times and appointments can made with them. Family members can also transport the resident to outside doctors if they desire or hire a transportation service. Transportation is usually not provided anywhere because all services are offered on site. However, the patient may leave with family or friends as long as they have been cleared by the house doctor. Like hospitals, there usually are standard visiting hours but some facilities allow visiting twenty-four hours a day. Religious services are also provided at many facilities. In addition, most locations offer laundry services for a fee. If they do not provide these services as part of the monthly rate, family members may do the laundry for the resident if they desire. Like any other level of care facility, it is important to tour many facilities to find the one that is the best fit. The price can vary greatly and does not necessarily equal better care. Quality of care is usually simply determined by the nurse and the certified nurse's assistant (CNA) as these are the people interacting many times a day with the resident.

Some areas offer other options for senior care. There may be government subsidized housing similar to Section 8 housing, congregate living communities, short term rehabilitation facilities similar to nursing homes with daily physical and occupational therapy, adult day care, and sub acute or extended care options within a local hospital. An elderly law attorney or social worker in your area can inform families and seniors of all available options in the community. Social workers can typically be found at all facilities but they may not be allowed to discuss other housing options outside of their facility as part of their contract. One might want to contact a social worker that specializes in the elderly or one at the local hospital to get information on other available options. Choosing the right path can be a difficult decision but there are many options today to find one that best fits the individual's needs.