Nursing Home Care: Myths and Makeovers

by Marcus Pickett

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Despite an exploding elderly population, the number of nursing homes has been consistently decreasing. In 1985, there were 19,100 nursing homes. In 2007, there were 15,281. This doesn't mean there are fewer beds for seniors. Rather, senior care facilities have diversified into a wide range of increasingly tailored care facilities. Respite care, hospice care, and retirement care are just a few of the new candidates for senior care.

In part, this individuation is a conscious attempt of various facilities to avoid the stigma of nursing homes as draconian, institutional care. Some facilities prefer the sterile and convoluted moniker of "continuing care retirement communities," than the label "nursing home." On the other hand, these new facilities do offer more intensive and more personalized care, especially if you're willing to pay for it. Yet, no matter what type of care you're looking for and no matter what type of financial resources you're able to muster, here are some of the things you should know about today's nursing home care.

Nursing Home Makeovers
It's probably not a coincidence that as the number of nursing homes decreases, so have the penalties assessed for violations of federal health and safety standards...and at a rate much faster than the decline of the facilities. This decline was attributed to improved quality of care by then-HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. Arguably, the worst examples of nursing homes had to close their doors altogether due to inferior standards and practices. Modern nursing homes (even those who retain the label) have a wide range of health and human resources. Self-actualization and empowerment are active philosophies widely adopted with buildings and amenities designed to enable this person-centered approach to senior care.

Dispelling Myths about Nursing Home Care

  • There's no privacy in a nursing home. Absolute privacy is an illusion at any stage in life, but nursing homes consciously try to strike a balance between retaining privacy and delivering a safe level of health care. Many nursing homes organize wings or floors based on the level of health care needed and the level of privacy that can be reasonably safeguarded.

  • Nursing homes have an unpleasant odor. This myth is half-true. Modern cleaning solutions deliver first-rate sanitation, while leaving a pleasant smell. That said, incontinence is incontinence, and mornings tend to be the worst time for this somewhat inevitable smell.

  • Once you've entered a nursing home, you'll never leave. Unless you have severe health limitations, this one is absolutely untrue. Some people are able to transfer into an assisted living facility that grants much greater independence. Yet, almost everybody is afforded the opportunity to visit family and friends outside the nursing home for short periods of time.

  • Husbands and wives can't live together in a nursing home. This myth is pretty much universally false in today's nursing homes. If the couple doesn't enter the facility at the same time, there may be a waiting period before a suitable room opens up, but generally speaking, husbands and wives can live together in their own, private room.

  • Patients are controlled through drugs and physical restraints. Another half-true myth. Any drugs, medical treatments, and physical restraints are used only under the order of a physician. The patients' rights to refuse medical treatment are observed. On the other hand, if you've had a stroke a "position enabler" may allow you to sit at a table and feed yourself. In any case, systematic control of patients is virtually non-existent in today's nursing homes.

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Nursing Home Care: How to Plan for Costs
You already know that nursing home care is expensive, but just how expensive? Recent trends suggest the median annual cost of nursing home care has surpassed $80,000 with an estimated increase of 6% each year. Of course, a number of factors can influence this annual cost, especially where you live. Alaska, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have some of the highest nursing home costs. Texas, Louisiana, and Missouri have some of the lowest. To view a state-by-state breakdown of assisted living, home care, and nursing care costs, click here.

As difficult as the situation can be, you must consider cost when looking at different care facilities. Not everybody or every family can afford luxurious retirement villages with comprehensive health services. It's also important to realize that Medicare doesn't cover most of the expenses associated with long-term nursing home care. Impoverished individuals can receive assistance through Medicaid, but this is far from a guarantee of security and stability in your last years. You should discuss options with a financial retirement planner. After gathering all available financial resources you can set a budget for your nursing home care this year as part of your long-term plan.

Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.