Long-Term Care

Long-term care involves a comprehensive range of services and support for patients who need assistance caring for themselves. These services can be beneficial for a patient with a chronic illness, or serious injury or disability, who is unable to care for him- or herself for an extended period of time. Although long-term care is most frequently used by older adults, patients of any age may need long-term care, especially following serious injury or debilitating illness. Long-term care may be provided in a facility, such as a nursing home or rehabilitation center, or a patient's home.

Reasons for Long-Term Care

Patients often need long-term care when they have a progressive health condition or disability that leaves them weakened or incapacitated. The need for long-term care may also arise following a major injury or an acute health crisis.

Several factors may increase the risk of needing long-term care. They include a person's age, with the risk of needing long-term care increasing with age; gender, with women at higher risk because they live an average of 5 to 10 years longer than men; lifestyle, with poor diet and lack of exercise typically increasing the risk; health status, with increased risk for those who have chronic health conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure); and family history, with those with close relatives who have chronic conditions at greater risk.

Types of Long-Term Care

The duration of long-term care varies, depending on the patient's specific needs. Some patients require long-term care for only a few weeks or months as they recover from sudden illness or injury. However, in many cases, long-term care is ongoing, as it is for a patient who has been significantly disabled from an acute event or progressive disease.

Home Care

Home care is a form of long-term care provided within a patient's home by family members, friends, volunteers and/or paid healthcare providers. It includes assistance with both healthcare and the patient's personal needs, such as food shopping/preparation, dressing, taking medications and housekeeping.

Community Services

Programs designed to supplement existing long-term care, community services are often useful for a patient with an illness such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. A patient using community services usually attends an adult daycare program or participates in various activities, and may take part in a meal program.

Assisted-Living Facilities

An assisted-living facility provides a patient with 24-hour supervision, assistance and healthcare services in a setting similar to his or her own home. Transportation and laundry services, and help with eating, dressing and bathing, are also provided.

Skilled Nursing Facilities

Skilled nursing facilities offer more extensive care for a patient who can no longer receive care at home or in an assisted-living facility.

Each type of long-term care has its own benefits. Home care enables a patient to receive care in the comfort of her or his own home, without having to pay for a nursing home. In some cases, home healthcare is covered by Medicare.

Community services allow patients to remain active in a community, and can give the primary caregiver a respite.

Assisted-living facilities provide long-term care assistance, while still enabling the patient to maintain a sense of independence. A patient in an assisted-living residence can also take part in various social and recreational activities.

Skilled nursing facilities offer numerous benefits, including the continuous presence of medical personnel; rehabilitation services; meals; activities; and assistance with all daily-care needs.

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