Home-based nursing is a growing trend and it keeps seniors in their homes longer, however, for many–this is not a viable option. Placing a family member in a nursing home is one of the most difficult, heartbreaking decision families have to make. Because of the need of the level of care required for that individual, families sometimes plan the placement including the person in the decision-making and selection profess. However, often times families are  forced to make a sudden nursing home placement because of a drastic change in the person’s health condition. Caring for the elderly is a major policy concern now that the oldest of 79 million baby boomers turn 61 this year. The number of people over the age of 65 will nearly double by 2030 to a little over 71 million.

Skilled nursing facilities are places for people who don’t need to be in a hospital but can no longer care for themselves or be cared for by others at home. This can include people with critical injuries or serious illnesses, or individuals who may need close attention after surgery.

Most picture nursing homes as cruel, impersonal, uncaring places where elders are just dropped off because no one else wants to take care of them. An orphanage for seniors, if you will. It’s important to remember that with regulations, nursing homes have dramatically changed over the past few decades. Today’s nursing homes are high-quality institutions for care and treatment.

There are multiple “types” of nursing homes, or skilled nursing facilities in today’s time:

Hospital-like Facilities – Often set up like a hospital, staff give medical care, as well as physical, speech, and occupational therapy. There can be a nurses’ station on each floor. As a rule, one or two people live in a room. A number of nursing homes will let couples live together. Things that make a room special, like family photos, are often welcome.

Household-like Facilities – Designed to be more like home, the day-to-day routine is not fixed. Staff and residents try to create a relaxed feeling–where kitchens are often open to residents, decorations give a sense of home, and the staff is encouraged to develop relationships with residents.

Combination – Some nursing homes have a combination of hospital-like and household-like units.

Almost all nursing homes have visiting doctors who see their patients regularly on site. Other nursing homes have patients visit the doctor’s office. Sometimes there are separate areas within the facility with special units for additional care such as those seniors with serious memory problems like dementia.

The average cost of a skilled nursing facility is more than $67,000 per year and tops at $100,000. There are multiple ways to pay for facilities such as:

Medicare – For someone who needs special care, Medicare, a Federal program, will cover part of the cost in a skilled nursing home approved by Medicare.

Medicaid – Medicaid is a State/Federal program that provides health benefits to some people with low incomes.

Private pay – Some people pay for long-term care with their own savings for as long as possible. When that is no longer possible, they may apply for help from Medicaid. If you think you may need to apply for Medicaid at some point, make sure the nursing home you’re interested in accepts Medicaid payments. Not all do.

Long-term care insurance – Some people buy private long-term care insurance. It can pay part of the costs for a nursing home or other long-term care for the length of time stated in your policy. Many different companies sell this type of insurance, and benefits vary widely. Look carefully at several policies before making a choice.

The average nursing home patient runs out of money within six months and must go on Medicaid.

More than 1.8 million people live in nursing homes. About 7.4% of Americans aged 75 and older lived in nursing homes in 2006, compared with 8.1% in 2000 and 10.2% in 1990.

There’s one age group that’s going into nursing homes at a higher rate. And it’s not the elderly. Younger individuals, ages 31 to 64, now make up 14% of the nursing home population, an analysis of federal data from the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s up from 10% just 10 years ago.

One important measure of a good nursing home is to find how they are rated by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. CMS oversees federal payments to nursing homes and assigns the star ratings. Each nursing home receives an overall rating of one to five stars, based on its number of stars in three categories: state-conducted health inspections, how much time nurses spend with residents and the quality of medical care. You can find out the rating of any facility at www.medicare.gov.

Nursing homes may often seem scary and depressing, and moving into one can fill people with a sense of betrayal and failure. Family involvement is important in helping the older person make the transition to a new living arrangement. Contrary to the stereotype, families do not abandon their loved ones by placing them in a nursing home. In fact, very few nursing home residents are truly without any family. Family members are encouraged to visit residents regularly and to be involved in the total care of their older relative. Family members can offer company and help with the basic activities of daily living, and they may be better able to communicate the needs of the resident.

The decision to move an aging loved one into a nursing home may be one of the most difficult and heartbreaking decisions you will ever make. In fact, it is common for adult children to promise themselves they will never subject a parent to “that kind of place.” They may be sincere, but that kind of promise is based on unpredictable circumstances.