Currently, more than 1.5 million people in the United States live in nursing homes [source: Pear]. The majority of nursing home residents are women, usually widowed, and nearly half of nursing home residents are 85 years or older [source: AGS Foundation]. But what really distinguishes these people from those living in, say, an assisted living facility, is the amount of nursing care and supervision they need.
When an elderly person and his or her family decide that this level of care is needed, they go through a process as lengthy as applying to college. First, potential residents and families should tour homes and consider priorities and needs. Would you rather live in a larger nursing home that has several cafes and the most state-of-the-art medical equipment, shared between hundreds of patients, or would you rather live in a smaller facility with fewer services and activities but more personal attention? What location is ideal? Do you want a private room or are you willing to share?
When you're considering nursing homes, ask for data about violations detailed in the home's inspection report (nursing homes are required to keep this on hand) but also feel free to trust your gut. If you walk in and don't get a sense that the place is a home or that residents are healthy and happy, then you're probably right. When you're ready to apply, there's a mountain of paperwork to complete, including personal, medical and financial records. If the nursing home is competitive with few beds available, this process will also mirror applying for college. And once accepted, prepare to pay even more than you would for four years of education. Nursing home costs average about $77,000 for one year [source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign].
About a third of residents entering a nursing home are eligible for Medicaid, which covers nursing home care, upon their admission, and another third will qualify for assistance as their own funds are used up [source: AGS Foundation]. Because Medicaid pays for so many people's nursing home care (the rules differ by state, however), most facilities accept Medicaid, but they may only have a limited number of beds or rooms set aside for Medicaid patients. For that reason, if you think that Medicaid may become an option down the road, you should check into the facility's policies about switching payment sources.
On the next page, we'll consider what that chunk of change buys you.