Why is elder care such a hot topic? Consider that, according to the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, more than one in eight people in the United States—or 13.3 percent of the population—are considered older Americans (65 and up). Also consider that persons in the United States who have reached the age of 65 are expected to live an additional 19.2 years, on average.

With a large baby boomer population headed into their retirement years, these numbers are only expected to increase. Luckily, elder care services designed specifically for today’s senior citizen population have become widespread and readily available throughout the United States.

Elder care may include a number of services that may be provided either in the home or within residential facilities. Elder care is typically organized under two major categories: in-home care (both family and professional) and residential care.

In-Home Elder Care Services

In-home elder care services are designed for seniors who may need a minimal amount of help performing their activities of daily living (ADLs), such as showering, preparing meals, or organizing medications. This care may be provided by family members or may be professionally provided care.

Care provided by family members is increasing, with more than 65 million people—or 29 percent of the population—now caring for a chronically, aged, or disabled family member, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Professional in-home care may include everything from cleaning services and food delivery to companion services and personal care services. Professionals who come to the home may help the elderly prepare meals, manage their finances, or assist them with showering and personal care. It may be a daily visit or a weekly visit, and the services may be provided by an agency or an independent professional. The people providing the in-home services may be health aides, certified nursing assistants, nursing aids, or visiting nurses, just to name a few.

Adult Day Care Centers

Adult day care centers provide out-of-the-home care for adults during the day. They may be aimed at seniors with limited abilities, with cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer’s, or those who simply require the benefits of socialization. Adult day care centers provide a structured, safe environment for senior citizens, while allowing them the opportunity to participate in social and personal activities. Some centers also provide basic medical and therapy services, and some even offer educational services.

According to a 2010 MetLife National Study, there are more than 4,600 adult day care centers operating in the United States. These centers provide care for more than 150,000 senior citizens every day. Adult day care centers are ideal for relieving family members and caregivers and may serve to delay or prevent institutionalization.

Assisted Living Facilities

Assisted living facilities, like independent living facilities, provide senior citizens with ample opportunity to socialize and engage in recreational activities. However, assisted living facilities provide a level of care that independent living facilities lack. Although residents of assisted living facilities generally enjoy independent living arrangements in an apartment or condominium and can come and go as they please, they also have access to a health and medical staff that provides both personal care and basic medical care.

As of 2009, the American Association of Retirement Communities reported that there were more than 30,000 assisted living facilities in the United States, in which more than 1 million seniors resided.

Skilled Nursing Facilities

Nursing homes, also often referred to as skilled nursing facilities, are designed to provide the highest level of care, including a high level of medical care. Residents of nursing homes are under the care of a physician and suffer from any number of cognitive or physical ailments that makes independent living impossible. Licensed healthcare professionals, including nurses and nurses’ aides, typically provide care around the clock.

Nursing homes also generally have on-site therapy facilities and feature community dining and recreation. Nursing homes may feature a number of specialized units, such as sub-acute units that provide the most comprehensive level of care. Many also serve as dedicated Alzheimer’s facilities. These facilities provide specialized care for senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Continuing Care Retirement Facilities

One of the newest concepts in elder care services is continuing care retirement facilities that offer senior citizens a complete range of care options, or a continuum of care. These facilities, which are usually designed in a campus setting, consist of a number of units, buildings or neighborhoods that provide various levels of care as needed as residents age.

As such, they offer everything from independent living residences to nursing home care, all of which are located in one community. This long-term care option comes with a large price tag, as seniors must pay an entrance fee, as well as monthly charges, which vary according to the type of contract they enter into. Extended contracts offer unlimited care, modified contracts offer services for a specific length of time, and a fee-for-service contract offers a lower enrollment fee but a higher monthly fee for services.

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