Pros and cons of nursing homes

What you need to know about skilled nursing care

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Choosing to move a loved one to a nursing home is never easy, but often it's necessary. Carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of nursing homes to help you determine if you're making the right decision for an aging loved one.

Benefits of nursing homes

Nursing homes are also referred to as skilled nursing facilities.

Nursing homes can improve a resident’s quality of life, especially if their care needs weren’t being met in the past. Learn about the benefits of nursing homes to see how a loved one could thrive with this type of move.

1. Full-time health care

Living in a nursing home gives your loved one 24/7 access to health care professionals. That means you can rest easy knowing that your loved one will be able to quickly receive the medical care they need.

The medical care provided by the staff at a nursing home ranges from basic health monitoring, like blood pressure and temperature checks, to more advanced nursing care, such as wound care and IV therapy.

The qualifications of the health care professionals at nursing homes will vary, depending on each facility’s policies. Nurses, both licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs), are often on site 24/7. However, other medical professionals, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and therapists, may only be on site during certain hours and on call at others.

2. Full-time personal care

Beyond needing medical care, older individuals often have difficulty completing day-to-day tasks such as bathing, eating, toileting and dressing. Your loved one’s health, well-being and quality of life are compromised when they're unable to perform these tasks.

The good news is that nursing homes also provide round-the-clock personal care. Activities of daily living (ADLs) that nursing home staff commonly help with include:

  • Grooming
  • Bathing
  • Mobility assistance
  • Dressing
  • Housekeeping
  • Meal preparation
  • Eating
  • Medication management
  • Continence

3. Socialization

Older people who lead an active social life are often healthier both mentally and physically. If your loved one doesn’t have access to communal activities to take part in, they may benefit from a nursing home.

Nursing homes regularly schedule such activities as social gatherings for card games, trivia and book clubs and more relaxing activities like yoga, meditation and arts and crafts. The exact types of activities available and how often they're scheduled will vary by facility.

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Disadvantages of nursing homes

While there are numerous benefits to nursing homes, there are also drawbacks that make this level of care not right for everyone.

1. Cost

Nursing home stays are expensive. The nationwide average for a semiprivate room in a nursing home is $7,756 per month, according to Genworth’s 2020 Cost of Care Survey.

While Medicare and some health insurance plans may provide limited coverage if a nursing home is being used for rehabilitation after an illness or injury, most do not offer considerable help with long-term care. You’d need long-term care insurance for that.

Medicaid does provide coverage for nursing homes. However, there are strict income requirements that must be met in order to qualify for Medicaid. Your loved one may need to liquidate their savings, assets and investments in order to qualify.

2. Risk of poor-quality care

Not every nursing home provides high-quality care. Unfortunately, if you aren't vigilant, your loved one may not receive the care they need and fall victim to abuse and exploitation. Here are some things you can do to help make sure you choose a nursing home that provides quality care:

  • Visit the facility at various times of the day: This allows you to see the environment your loved one will be living in. You can see firsthand if residents are being cared for and if the facility is well-staffed.
  • Research the facility: Reading reviews and consumer reports can provide you with a better understanding of people’s previous experiences with a specific nursing home.
  • Speak with residents and their families: Speaking directly with real people lets you ask questions and get a more nuanced understanding of what life at a facility is like and what it’s like to do business with a nursing home.
  • Use Medicare's nursing home compare tool: The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides a comprehensive tool that gives you valuable information on nursing homes. You can learn about ratings, resident satisfaction reports, and any citations or violations a facility has received.

3. Other assorted disadvantages

Some other drawbacks of nursing homes include:

  • Lack of privacy: Your loved one will likely have to share a room with a roommate unless you pay for a private room, and residents have to adjust to staff members coming and going at all hours. Staff also has access to residents’ personal belongings.
  • Loss of freedom: Nursing homes are extremely structured. Your loved one may not like having to do things on a set schedule. This can include eating, showering, getting dressed and taking part in specific activities.
  • Visiting hours: Most nursing homes only allow visits at designated times. Your loved one may miss being able to visit with friends and family whenever they wish.
  • Location: The facility could be located in an unfamiliar area, and it may not be located near friends and family.

Bottom line: Is a nursing home right for you?

If your loved one needs regular skilled nursing care, they may thrive in a nursing home. However, this level of care is more than many older people need. Taking the time to weigh the pros and cons of nursing homes and how they match your unique situation will help you determine if a nursing home is a good option for your loved one.

Finding a high-quality facility that meets your loved one’s needs is extremely important. Make sure to do your research so you can make a well-informed decision regarding which facility is right for your loved one.

If you determine a nursing home isn’t the right environment for your loved one, there are other care options available. Assisted living facilities, independent living facilities and at-home care may be able to provide the support and assistance your loved one needs.

Article Sources
ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
  1. Genworth Financial, “Cost of Care Survey.” Accessed May 6, 2021.
  2. U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Care Compare Tool: Nursing Homes.” Accessed May 6, 2021.
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