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Senior Rehabilitation Centers: Better Care Options After a Hospital Stay

Written by Angelike Gaunt
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated April 20, 2021

Did you know that families have options when choosing where to complete rehab for elderly loved ones after they’re discharged from the hospital? From skilled nursing homes that offer 24-hour care to rehab services that can be carried out at home or at an assisted living community, learn about options that will help your loved one get better as quickly and safely as possible.

Key Takeaways

  1. Post-hospital rehab is offered in a variety of settings. Seniors and their families can have a say in where they receive rehab after a hospital stay.
  2. Some rehab centers offer short- and long-term options. The amount of recovery time your loved one needs will depend on their condition, and this could affect where they receive rehab.
  3. Some assisted living facilities offer rehab. These facilities offer typically offer a variety of on-site therapies and 24-hour assistance.
  4. Know what your loved one will need after a hospital stay. Talk with their doctor about the care your loved one will need to recover, including therapies, daily activities, and safety concerns.
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What is a rehabilitation center for seniors?

Senior rehabilitation centers are designed to help those recovering from an injury or serious medical event to reduce pain and improve function. Senior rehab facilities often include services such as:

  • Physical therapy to help improve mobility, balance, flexibility, increase strength, and manage pain
  • Occupational therapy to assist with activities of daily living (ADLs), use of adaptive equipment, or fine motor skills
  • Speech therapy to help with conditions that affect communication, swallowing, or cognitive skills, such as attention or memory problems

Inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services for the elderly

Senior rehabilitation centers may offer inpatient and outpatient services. Your loved one may need inpatient rehabilitation if they need around-the-clock care and continuous monitoring.

Inpatient rehab requires those recovering from a serious injury, debilitating disease, or major surgery to stay at a facility for a period of time. This type of rehab allows for intensive care that generally includes daily physical, occupational, or speech therapy.

Inpatient rehab facilities may offer meals provided by dietitians, exercise classes, social activities, and counseling services, while providing skilled medical care and assistance with daily activities, such as bathing and getting dressed.

Outpatient rehab also offers physical, occupational, and speech therapy. However, seniors live at home and go to a rehab center to complete their rehabilitation.

Short-term vs. long-term rehabilitation for elderly patients

Some senior rehab centers offer both short- and long-term inpatient rehab options. Your loved one’s health will dictate how much rehab they need.

For example, after a minor surgery, your parent may only require a short stay at a senior rehab center. However, chronic, serious conditions, such as heart problems or a stroke, may require several months of rehab services at a skilled nursing home that offers 24-hour care, seven days a week.

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Your loved one’s doctor will consider the severity of their illness or injury to determine the type of rehab program they need. Together, you can decide if your parent is most likely to achieve rehab goals safely at a skilled nursing facility or a different rehab option.

Choosing a senior rehabilitation location after hospitalization

Senior rehabilitation can take place in a variety of settings.

Senior rehab therapy at skilled nursing facilities

Skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), also called rehab hospitals, offer short-term housing and rehabilitation services for people who require 24-hour nursing services and skilled medical care. These inpatient rehab facilities typically have a clinical feel, with hospital beds and shared rooms. Meals, dietary counseling, and social services are often provided.

Approved skilled nursing facilities may be covered by Medicare as long as your loved one enters the skilled nursing facility within 30 days of a hospital stay that lasted at least three days.

If your loved one is affected by COVID-19 or is not able to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic, they may be able to get Medicare coverage for a skilled nursing facility without a qualifying hospital stay.

In-home rehab for elderly after a hospital stay

Some senior rehabilitation services can be carried out in the home through home health agencies. Home health services are paid for by Medicare or insurance.

Home health services are provided by licensed medical professionals who come to the home to do a specific task that has been ordered by a physician. These tasks may include monitoring health, administering injections, providing wound care, or developing a strength training and physical therapy exercise program.

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Home health rehab therapy can only be offered a few times a week. This means that seniors who receive these services must be motivated to follow their rehab program when the therapist is not there.

In-home therapies also lack the peer support and socialization that can be provided in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities. That support and socialization often gives seniors the extra motivation they need as they recover.

Elderly rehabilitation at assisted living communities

Many people are not aware that rehabilitation can also be completed in assisted living communities. Just like at home, home health professionals can provide specific therapies and nursing services that are paid for by Medicare, with the added benefit of 24-hour assistance from the assisted living community staff.

Many assisted living communities have a physical therapy and occupational therapy room in their building for residents to take advantage of high-tech equipment multiple times throughout the day.

For an older adult who expects to go home after rehab, ask about a short-term respite care stay at an assisted living community. A respite stay at an assisted living facility may also be a good option for your loved one who has completed rehab but is not yet confident enough to go home alone.

Respite care can allow a senior to have the peace of mind that someone is available 24 hours a day for assistance and for immediate response to emergencies.

Hospital discharge risks

In a cash-strapped health care system, many hospitals are increasing ambulatory care and outpatient services which puts increased pressure on the patient, family and home care providers to deliver post-surgery care.

The issue is a complex one, but can result in some specific risks:

  • Early hospital release and unclear discharge guidance
  • Gaps in patient and caregiver education
  • Poor continuity of care and communication between health providers
  • Seniors taking medication inappropriately (or being given the wrong medication)

Questions to ask about your hospital discharge plan

To help determine your loved one’s recovery options, ask their doctor these questions before leaving the hospital:

  • What therapies will my parent require?
  • What services will health insurance or Medicare pay for?
  • Will my parent need help with dressing or bathing?
  • Will my loved one need help with cooking and housework?
  • Will my loved one be safe at home upon discharge or will someone need to be with them 24 hours a day?
  • What is the average length of recovery time?
  • What problems, symptoms, and side effects should we watch for?
  • What should we do about any potential side effects or problems?
  • What does each medicine do and why is it needed?
  • What are the medication dosages and side effects?
  • Who do we call if we have questions about medical equipment, such as oxygen or a walker?

Transitioning home after a hospital discharge: Maintain realistic expectations

It’s common for patients or their family members to expect a full return to their pre-hospital selves after a health event. However, this is sometimes not possible, and not maintaining realistic expectations about recovery can lead to disappointment and depression.

At minimum, many patients will need to make lifestyle changes to prevent the kind of event that precipitated the hospitalization from happening again. These changes may include dietary or exercise modifications. At the other end of the spectrum, many patients require extensive additional treatment, monitoring or rehabilitation. Before leaving the hospital, make sure you understand the extent of improvement that is expected to take place, and what further therapy or treatment is needed to ensure the best outcome.

Remaining vigilant after a discharge

Families and caregivers need to take it upon themselves to ensure they understand the medication that their senior is taking and the instructions they’ve been asked to follow once home. Ensure that all the healthcare professionals involved in your senior’s care are on the same page and ask questions if something doesn’t seem right.

Ultimately, it should be up to your senior’s health care professionals to reduce the above mentioned risks. However, with a health care system that is currently fragmented, it’s easy for important elements of post-hospital care to slip through the cracks. This means that a senior and their caregivers need to
take responsibility to ask the right questions and follow up on medication and care advice to help reduce the risk of readmission after release from the hospital.

Meet the Author
Angelike Gaunt

Angelike Gaunt is a content strategist at A Place for Mom. She’s developed health content for consumers and medical professionals at major health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Kansas Health System. She’s passionate about developing accessible content to simplify complex health topics.

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