Dear Donna:

My dad was the primary caregiver for my mom the last few years until she passed away from cancer. Because our attention was so focused on Mom, we didn’t realize how much my dad’s own health had declined. Dad doesn’t have an illness like my mom did. He just seems to be getting frail.

One concern is that he doesn’t eat much. When he does, it’s fast food. I stock his freezer with healthy meals he can reheat, but he doesn’t seem interested. My parents were married over 60 years, and this is the first time in his adult life he’s lived alone. I’m wondering if that’s part of the issue.

Dad has admitted he could use a little help around the house each week when I can’t be there. His solution is a home care aide. We used an agency when my mom was still alive, so he is comfortable with that. My brother and I think assisted living would be a better option for his overall well-being.

Can you help me understand the differences between these two types of senior care? I’m just not sure if we should try to encourage him to move to assisted living or if home care would be better.


Janice in Williamsburg, MI

Assisted Living or Home Care for an Aging Parent

Dear Janice:

This is a question that families often ask as they begin searching for solutions for a senior loved one. It sounds like your dad has been through a lot these past few years, so it makes sense that he could benefit from a helping hand.

While both options have similarities, there are distinct differences between assisted living and home care. And just to make sure you fully understand your options, your dad might also be a good candidate for an independent living community.

Let’s take a quick look at each of these types of care.

What Is Home Care?

Home care is also referred to by a variety of names, including private duty care or in-home care services. Depending on the situation, home care aides can help with light housekeeping, laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation, transportation to appointments and errands, and personal care.

Be aware that home care is for people who:

  • Require minimal to moderate assistance at fairly regular intervals. Because appointments are typically required, it’s not usually a good option for people who need assistance at random times, such as late night bathroom trips or last-minute errands.
  • Have nonmedical needs that can be met with a few hours of support each day. Because laws vary by state, it’s important to know what services an agency can and can’t provide. Medication management is often closely regulated by states.
  • Reside in a safe, senior-friendly home that is easy to navigate. Home care can’t compensate for a house that has too many stairs or a bathroom that isn’t senior-friendly.

Adult children often find home care useful in the short-term when they are exploring local independent and assisted living communities. It helps to keep the older adult safe and give the family the time needed to make an informed choice about senior living.

The Benefits of Independent Living

Independent living communities are a senior housing option designed with the active adult in mind. Older adults who make this move want a lifestyle free from the worries of home maintenance and repairs so they can focus on their social lives.

Here are some of the benefits of independent living communities that seniors and families appreciate most:

  • Maintenance-free living: No more worries about shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, or fixing the dishwasher! A move to independent living comes with a maintenance-free lifestyle.
  • Healthy meals: Because seniors who live alone often find preparing meals for one to be too much work, they develop bad eating habits. Many independent living communities offer meal options that make it easier to eat well.
  • Amenities and conveniences: Depending on the community, residents will have a host of amenities and conveniences. Housekeeping, laundry, lawn care, snow removal, transportation, trash removal, and an on-site beauty/barber shop are a few standard services.
  • Social opportunities: These communities provide meaningful ways to connect with others every day. From a morning cup of coffee in the dining room to a group outing to a popular local restaurant for lunch, the lifestyle is a primary reason people move to independent living.
  • Safety and security: The safe, secure environment these communities offer to older adults is another benefit. From having staff on-site 24/7 to emergency call systems, residents feel safe living alone.

Understanding Assisted Living

Assisted living is sometimes described as the best of two worlds. Residents have the privacy and independence they value while also knowing help is nearby when needed. Residents usually have their own apartment or suite with on-site caregivers available around the clock to offer support.

The benefits of assisted living include:

  • A senior-friendly environment with features in place to decrease the likelihood of falling
  • Preventing or delaying health issues linked to isolation, such as depression, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease
  • Reliable, affordable transportation for outings and errands, which is especially helpful if a senior wants to limit or give up driving
  • Assistance with medication management so residents stay on schedule with their prescription and over-the-counter medicines

I hope this quick overview gives you some direction. Please call a Heritage community near you with any questions or to arrange a personal tour for your dad and your family.

Kind regards,