As we age: ‘Home’ is not same for everyone

Several levels of housing available and does not mean the same thing for everyone

In the world of elder care, there are a lot of terms that get used interchangeably, sometimes to the confusion of the elderly and their families.

I thought I would take a few moments to clarify some of the most common terms that are used related to healthcare options.

Let’s start with an understanding of “homes” for the elderly.

There are several levels of housing available and going into a ‘home’ does not mean the same thing for everyone.

The first level of care is simply independent housing for seniors. Most often this is an apartment complex or even a larger institutional setting where each senior, or couple, has their own private room and washroom and where, for the most part, the individual takes care of him or herself.  There may be a common dining room and some recreational facilities, but there is no specific health care support needed.

Assisted living provides some support for those who can take care of many of their own needs, but require help for things like dressing, bathing, medication management or mobility issues.

Convalescent homes, often called nursing homes, provide full nursing services for those who have significant physical or mental disabilities and require around-the-clock care.

A common model now being used are continuing care retirement communities, which are large facilities that include a range of all of these services so that a change in circumstances for an individual requires just a move between rooms and floors, not an entire change of scenery.

Specific to the provision of health care, there are various terms used as well.

Those who can look after themselves most of the time, but need some nursing support for post-operative conditions or chronic conditions, come under the umbrella of home care.

Those who need constant care, but are being treated with the intent of being cured, undergo hospital care.

In hospital care, the goal is to provide treatment and move patients into home care support as quickly as possible.

For patients for whom a cure is not an option, the type of care provided is known as palliative care.  The goal of palliative care is to provide relief from pain and additional complications for a condition that cannot be cured but might be managed, either at home or in a convalescent home, to provide the best quality of life possible.

The final level of care is hospice care, offered to patients whose condition has deteriorated to a point that it is considered terminal in a relatively short period of time, usually within six months.

The purpose of this kind of care is to provide pain relief to patients and counselling to both the patient and the patient’s family with the objective of creating quality time together.

Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and elder care. (

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