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Why Continuum of Care Is Important When Choosing a Retirement Community

a senior man having his heartbeat monitored by a nurse at his senior living community

What’s one word you keep coming across in your search for a senior living community? Likely, many of you can answer that question with “continuum of care.”

If that has you wondering what a continuum of care is and why it matters, let’s take a closer look.

Continuum of Care Definition

The simple definition of continuum of care is a system that offers a comprehensive range of health services that cover different levels and intensity of care.

A continuum of care can mean different things in different settings. In the healthcare world, it doesn’t necessarily mean one formal system of care. Rather, it can mean the care you receive from birth onward, including hospitals, urgent care, family physicians, public health services, and so on.

When it comes to senior living, continuum of care means something else—a system all under one roof or available at one community, designed to meet the needs of the seniors living there.

See what living at a community with a full continuum of care is really like >>

Continuum of Care in Senior Living

Certain retirement living community types offer a continuum of care for seniors. That means that once a senior moves to a community, there are services and amenities in place to meet whatever changes in their health the future brings.

It’s standard for these communities to offer all levels of care right on one campus, negating the need to travel or even move to receive access to the appropriate care services.

As Brad Breeding of MyLifeSite describes it, a continuum of care in senior living is like a spectrum.

“On the left, the spectrum begins with independent living—a person who is more or less self-sufficient and able to safely live on their own. The spectrum then progresses to the right to include personal care, assisted living, and/or memory care,” Breeding writes in his article, What is a “Continuum of Care”?. “Then, on the far right-hand side of the spectrum would be skilled care and skilled nursing care—for people who have major health issues or cognitive decline and are no longer able to care for themselves.”


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Continuum of Care Services in a Retirement Living Community

Life Plan Communities (also known as continuing care retirement communities) offer a continuum of care to seniors through independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing. The more comprehensive communities also offer memory support services and rehabilitation.

Here’s an overview of the services offered at each of those points on the spectrum of care:

  • Assisted Living. For seniors who need some support with daily living activities, assisted living provides assistance with dining, bathing, dressing, toileting, and ambulation. There is also access to health and medical services. These services are typically in addition to independent living services such as dining, housekeeping, events and transportation.
  • Skilled Nursing. For residents who need long-term care (more than what is provided in assisted living), skilled nursing gives assistance with dining, bathing, dressing, toileting, and ambulation, as well as access to round-the-clock health and medical services. As you’ll find with assisted living, these services are on top of the lifestyle and wellness services and amenities offered at the community.
  • Memory Support. If someone has memory issues, memory support can provide the necessary services with programs designed for people with memory loss or dementia. Residents also receive assistance with activities of daily living.
  • Rehabilitation. If a senior has a health setback, rehabilitation can get them back on their feet. Services include nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

Keep in mind that different communities offer different services. While the ones listed above are fairly common, you might see different services offered when you’re comparing various Life Plan Communities.


What Is a Life Plan Community?


Why Continuum of Care Is Important

Not all communities offer a continuum of care. There are many different types of retirement living communities to choose from and a continuum of care is not a universal feature.

As we mentioned above, Life Plan Communities (also called continuing care retirement communities) offer a full continuum of care. It’s their defining characteristic.

Other communities, such as senior apartments or 55+ communities, typically do not have a healthcare component. They offer housing designed for seniors and may provide certain maintenance and hospitality services, but not assisted living or skilled nursing.

Still other communities are exclusively designed for assisted living or long term care (what you might think of as a nursing home). They would not be an ideal fit for independent, active seniors because they offer more care than is necessary.

This is not to say that those communities are bad options. They may be a good fit for you and your needs. However, with those communities, you do run the risk of needing more services in the future that the community doesn’t provide, which may necessitate a move.

When you consider that someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services and supports down the road, you can see why continuum of care is such an important feature when considering a retirement living community.

Again, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t choose a 55+ community or senior apartment community if that’s your preference. You’ll simply want to have a plan in place in case you ever need assisted living or long-term care, whether that’s through in-home care or moving to an assisted living community.

If, on the other hand, you choose to move to a Life Plan Community that has everything you need on campus, you won’t have to worry about moving in the future. You’ll be able to enjoy your current active lifestyle, enhanced with independent living services, and know that you’ll have the proper care in the future should your health needs ever change.


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Continuum of Care for Seniors in the Chicago Area

Presbyterian Homes is a non-profit, faith-based network of vibrant retirement homes in north and northwest suburban Chicago, Illinois. You can learn more about our three Life Plan Communities in Lake Forest, Arlington Heights, and Evanston by exploring our website.