Longer, Better Life in Long-Term Care

As the average life span of Americans continues to increase, the aged will place ever-greater demands on long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living facilities. These are care settings for both people with long-term medical needs and people who simply can’t carry out the activities of daily life (ADL)—dressing and undressing, bathing, moving about, using the restroom, and preparing food and eating—unaided.

It’s important to clarify the differences among long-term care facilities. Skilled nursing facilities (SNFs, pronounced sniffs), are typically used for people with extensive medical and/or rehabilitative needs and have medical staff. The terms nursing home and skilled nursing facility are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Nursing homes are not regulated or certified by the federal government, are not covered by Medicare or Medicaid, and typically do not provide the same range of medical and rehabilitative care that SNFs do. They are usually run by charitable organizations.

Assisted living facilities (ALFs, pronounced alfs) are care settings for people who exclusively need assistance with ADL. Over 3 million Americans receive care in U.S. nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities each year, and nearly one million persons are in assisted living facilities.

Obviously, there is and will continue to be a premium on running these facilities in a way that protects resident health. Yet currently, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 to 3 million serious infections occur in long-term care facilities annually. The likelihood of infection is higher in long-term care facilities than at home. Infections in these settings cause as many as 380,000 deaths yearly. Far, far too many.

That’s why it’s so valuable that the CDC has established a website with guidelines to help both caregivers and residents avert or minimize infections. For those of you who would like more information about protecting yourself, your parents, or your grandparents, the long-term care website is located at http://www.cdc.gov/longtermcare/.