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Ask the Senior Care Expert | What are levels of care?

When a family is at the point of considering moving a loved one out of their home and into a facility, they will have to consider what type of facility is most appropriate. The family will hear terms like independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing facility. Just what do these terms mean?

Tim Golden, BrightStar Care

Independent living is very much what it sounds like. Independent living facilities are shared living arrangements where residents receive little or no hands-on help. Residents must be able to take care of themselves. They must be able to dress, feed themselves, bathe themselves and take care of their other personal needs, including managing medicines, without help from the facility staff. Residents can usually hire outside help for those personal needs, but the facility staff is not allowed to provide that assistance. Often meals are available in a dining room.

Assisted living is a shared residence where facility staff does help residents with personal needs. Staff usually come by every couple of hours to make sure everything is OK. Staff can help with medications. How much help the facility staff provides is often on a sliding scale meaning the more help is needed can mean the higher the cost.

Memory care is assisted living for the cognitively impaired, i.e., those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Staff ratios are higher meaning there is more staff because residents in memory care require more help and supervision. Memory care is also a restricted area. Residents are not able to leave the locked area unless they are accompanied by someone else. One of the challenges of memory care for families is there are many levels of dementia from mild impairment to much more serious issues. Most facilities have only one area for memory care, so all residents are together. Those that are only mildly impaired may not be comfortable being surrounded by others with more advanced dementia. Some facilities offer multiple levels of memory care so that residents in each area are around others like them. Skilled nursing facilities are the traditional nursing homes with which we are all familiar. There are short-term beds, referred to as rehab beds, in skilled nursing facilities and there are permanent residents in long-term beds.

Skilled nursing facilities, like independent living, assisted living, and memory care, have all come a long way. Images come to mind when we think of the term nursing home, but I would encourage you to keep an open mind when looking at any potential residence for a loved one. There is always a choice, and you should investigate thoroughly any facility into which you may move a family member. Visit the potential facilities and trust your senses. What does it smell like? What do you hear? What do you see? What does the food taste like? Make sure to visit multiple locations and compare them to each other. It’s a big decision, and your loved one’s health and happiness depend on it. 

Tim Golden is the owner of BrightStar Care, Lawrenceville. You can reach Tim at (404)281-1537 or by emailing For more information please visit

Tim Golden
BrightStar Care

PO Box 634
Lawrenceville, GA 30046