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Your Guide to Nursing Homes 

Written by Grace Styron
 about the author
8 minute readLast updated March 7, 2023

Many people use the phrase “nursing home” to describe any type of senior living. However, today’s senior care services are more nuanced and can vary drastically. Some types of senior living communities simply offer 55+ housing and activities, while others provide advanced and specialized medical care.

A nursing home refers to a medical facility designed to provide high levels of long-term skilled medical and personal care. Read on to learn when it’s time to move a loved one into a nursing home, what services and benefits nursing homes offer, and how to cover the costs of nursing home care.

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What is a nursing home?

Nursing homes are facilities that provide round-the-clock supervision, personal care, and skilled nursing care — usually on a long-term basis — for residents who can’t care for themselves at home. Generally, care in a nursing home is provided by licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or doctors.
Some nursing homes are set up like a hospital, while others try to incorporate a warmer, more home-like atmosphere. There’s often a nurses’ station on each floor. Some even have special care units for people with serious conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
The majority of nursing home residents are at least 85 years old, but anyone who requires 24-hour medical care and supervision can potentially benefit from nursing home services. However, someone with less advanced medical needs may benefit more from memory care, assisted living, or in-home care.

What services do nursing homes provide?

Nursing home services primarily focus on personal and medical care, which can include the following:
  • Skilled nursing care
  • 24-hour supervision
  • Nutrition and dining services — usually at least three meals per day
  • Mobility assistance
  • Assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as grooming, dressing, and bathing
  • Medication management and administration
  • Orthopedic care
  • Wound care
  • Rehabilitation services, such as occupational and physical therapy
  • Specialized care for those with memory loss
  • Palliative and hospice care

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Nursing homes will also typically provide housekeeping, laundry services, and social and recreational activities to help keep residents as active, engaged, and fulfilled as possible.
Residents and their families can work with nursing home staff to develop a care plan that evolves with their specific needs and preferences. The care plan includes an initial health assessment and regular, ongoing assessments to help tackle any new health issues that may arise.

When is it time to move a loved one to a nursing home?

It may not be an easy decision, but recognizing the signs that it’s time for increased care is crucial to your loved one’s quality of life. Some signs it may be time to move an aging parent to a nursing home include the following:
  • They fall frequently. Trips, slips, and falls pose serious danger to seniors. Frequent falls are an indicator that a person cannot safely live on their own. That said, nursing homes are designed to minimize such safety risks.
  • They use a wheelchair or have mobility issues. Chances are, if a person uses a wheelchair or struggles with their mobility, they may also require help with incontinence care and other ADLs. Trained caregivers in nursing homes can assist with things like bed transfers, using the toilet, and navigating the facility.
  • They can no longer feed or bathe themselves. The inability to keep oneself fed or clean is a telltale sign that one’s needs have advanced to the point of requiring the help of a trained caregiver. Nursing home staff can assist residents with feeding and maintaining personal hygiene. They may also promote dental hygiene by incorporating regular teeth cleanings and other dental treatments.
  • They have a complex or progressive health condition. Nursing home staff are trained to help maximize the quality of life for those with chronic or complex health conditions like muscular dystrophy, diabetes, cognitive diseases, and even cancer.
  • They need access to 24-hour skilled nursing care. Maybe they’re recovering from an injury or surgery, or maybe an illness has progressed to the point of needing access to 24/7 care and supervision. Nursing homes typically staff nurses, LPNs, CNAs, and various therapists who can provide round-the-clock care for your parent and peace of mind for you and your family.

What qualifies a person for nursing home care?

Requirements for nursing home admission vary by state. Be sure to contact the regulating agency in your loved one’s state, such as the department of health or department of aging and disability services, for more detailed information on specifications and standards.
Regardless of where they live, your loved one will need a comprehensive health assessment to be admitted to a nursing home. This can be done by a nurse, their primary care doctor, or attending staff if they’re hospitalized.
Once state requirements have been determined and the health assessment has been completed, you’ll need to get a few documents in order. The documents listed below are typically required for nursing home admission.
  • A physician’s order. Similar to obtaining a written prescription, a physician’s order will confirm your loved one’s need for nursing care, medications, and treatments.
  • Current medical history. This may require a physical examination and the results of recent medical testing. This gives the nursing home’s staff and physicians up-to-date information on your loved one’s health status.
  • State-required form. This form certifies that an individual meets state nursing home requirements and can be acquired from your loved one’s primary care physician or at any nursing home in the state where your loved one will receive care.
  • Completed admissions paperwork. This includes your loved one’s consent to be treated, their insurance information, and various nursing home policies and responsibilities.
Some nursing homes may also require other types of paperwork, such as copies of power of attorney forms and advance directives.

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How much do nursing homes cost?

The monthly median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $9,034 in 2021, according to Genworth’s most recent Cost of Care Survey. However, some residents save money by choosing to share a semi-private room with a roommate. The median cost of a shared room was $7,908 per month in 2021. That’s a range of about $94,900-$108,405 per year.
Nursing home costs depend on various factors like location. States with higher costs of living typically have higher nursing home costs, and vice versa. Nursing homes in states on the East Coast, Hawaii, and Alaska tend to be pricier than those in Southern and Midwestern states.

How to pay for a nursing home

Nursing homes can be pretty pricey because of the high level of support and specialized care they offer their residents. Fortunately, there are many resources that will help cover the costs, including certain forms of insurance and federal and state programs.

Private pay options

Talk to your parent about their savings, investments, and other assets. They may be able to use the following resources to cover the cost of their nursing home care:
  • Personal savings. Out-of-pocket payments from personal funds are a common way to fund nursing home care.
  • Retirement income. This may include income from Social Security benefits, annuities, profit-sharing plans, or IRAs.
  • Pensions. A pension is a certain amount of money paid by a retiree’s former employer. The amounts are based on position, years worked, and age of retirement.
  • Investments. Stocks, bonds, and other investments can be sold to pay for long-term nursing care. Be sure to speak to your loved one’s portfolio manager or financial advisor about this option.
  • Home equity. Talk with your loved one about selling or renting out their home to cover the cost of their nursing home care. A reverse mortgage may be an option if only one parent requires nursing home care and the other can remain in the home.
  • Bridge loans. This is a short-term loan that can be used to bridge the gap between buying a home and selling a previous one. It can also help fund nursing home care while waiting for benefits, insurance, or other payment methods to kick in.

Insurance and other health benefits

Most health insurance plans will help cover at least some costs of nursing home care. Consider the following types of insurance, and check with your loved one’s insurance provider(s) to determine if they’ll help pay for nursing home care.
  • Long-term care insurance. Benefits may vary, but policies typically cover medically necessary care provided in nursing homes.
  • Life insurance. Your loved one can either sell their policy to a third party to establish a long-term care benefit plan or surrender their policy for its cash value in a lump sum.
  • Private health insurance. Some private insurance plans will help pay for medical care in a nursing home. However, private health insurance benefits vary greatly depending on the policy.
  • Veterans benefits. Eligible veterans and their surviving spouses may be able to receive VA benefits that can help cover the cost of food, lodging, medical care, and other expenses in nursing homes.

Does Medicare pay for a nursing home?

Medicare can help cover some costs of a nursing home, but it doesn’t cover custodial care or long-term care. However, some nursing homes also offer short-term rehabilitation services, which can be covered by Medicare.

Does Medicaid pay for a nursing home?

Yes, Medicaid can cover up to 100% of the cost of a nursing home. However, the nursing home must be certified by Medicaid, and the care recipient must meet federal and state eligibility requirements for Medicaid coverage. Medicaid typically only helps people with limited financial resources cover medical expenses, including long-term nursing home care.

How to find a nursing home near you

Our Senior Care Advisors can help guide your family’s search for senior living. They can offer advice and answers to your questions, discuss your loved one’s needs and preferences, and set up tours with facilities in your area, all at no cost to you or your family member.

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  1. Genworth. (2021). Cost of care survey.

Meet the Author
Grace Styron

Grace Styron is a writer at OurParents specializing in assistive technology, memory care, and home care. Before writing about healthy aging, she worked for an online women’s lifestyle magazine and as a grant writer for a nonprofit regenerative permaculture farm in Virginia. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University.

Edited byOurParents Staff

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