Find Community

Rehab Therapy for Seniors: Everything You Need to Know

Interested in learning more about rehabilitation services at senior living communities? Let's uncover the difference between inpatient, outpatient, and at-home rehabilitation as well as how to choose the right option for your situation.

When more recovery time is required after hospitalization for an illness, injury or surgery, senior rehabilitation services can help you get back home as quickly and safely as possible. Think of these services as a bridge between hospital and recovery. The goal: to help you regain strength and get you back to prior levels of functioning (and beyond).

To help you understand how senior rehab works, here are the different types of rehabilitation settings and the level of care you can expect at each.

Senior Rehabilitation Settings

Depending on the type and intensity of care required, your physician may recommend inpatient, outpatient or at-home rehabilitation. Inpatient and outpatient rehab may be offered in a hospital, in a freestanding skilled nursing care facility (sometimes called a nursing home) or in a dedicated wing of a senior living community such as an assisted living or life plan community.

Inpatient Rehab

As the name suggests, those who need inpatient rehab, stay overnight. Facilities typically offer both short- and long-term inpatient options. Length of stay depends on the amount of care required.

In general, senior rehabilitation centers provide three basic levels of health care, each dependent upon state of health, specific needs and the length of stay. These levels include:

  • Basic Care: Includes assistance with your activities of daily living, personal care, supervision with medical needs, help walking, and other safety procedures.
  • Sub-Acute: These are comprehensive senior care services aimed at helping you with an acute illness, injury, or a flare-up of a chronic condition such as COPD or type 2 diabetes.
  • Acute Care: If you have a debilitating disease, traumatic injury, severe stroke or intensive surgery, registered nurses work with your family members and doctor to create a multidisciplinary rehab program to promote healing.

Who Needs Inpatient Rehab?

Inpatient rehab is typically reserved for complex rehabilitative needs where more intensive treatments from an interdisciplinary therapy team are required. Your doctor may also suggest inpatient rehabilitation services if you’re living alone or being at home by yourself isn’t safe or practical.

Health conditions that may require a stay at a senior rehab center include:

  • Fracture or broken hip
  • Joint injury or replacement
  • Aneurysm
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Neurological conditions
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Brain injury
  • Tumor/cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Limited mobility
  • Frequent falls
  • Amputation
  • Swallowing issues (known as dysphagia)
  • Pneumonia

What to Expect

Most rehabilitation facilities feature a homelike environment. Instead of a hospital gown, you can wear your own clothes. You may have a private room with your own personal living space. Also, there isn’t usually a set schedule. Everything happens when you’re ready.

In general, here’s how senior rehab works: Whether you’re spending a few days, weeks, or months, your time will be filled with specific therapies and medical treatments tailored to help you be as independent as possible. While the focus of your stay is rehabilitation, both body and your mind need conditioning and stimulation. That’s why most senior rehab centers also offer opportunities for activities and socializing. Although there isn’t a set time for waking, eating, etc., things typically happen as they would at home.

Outpatient Rehabilitation

Outpatient rehabilitation involves receiving therapy on a part-time basis without staying overnight in a hospital or facility. Patients typically visit the senior rehabilitation center for scheduled appointments. Outpatient rehab is for those who have less severe rehabilitation needs, can manage their daily activities with minimal assistance or who could benefit from more rehab after being discharged from the hospital or inpatient rehab.

At-Home Rehabilitation

Home rehabilitation best suits those who prefer to receive rehab at home, those with transportation challenges or those with mobility issues who may find it difficult to travel to an outpatient rehab center. Therapy services are usually provided through home health agencies. Therapists assess the home environment for safety hazards before providing personalized rehabilitation sessions directed by a physician. Family members often participate in therapy sessions and learn techniques to assist with care.

Rehabilitation in a Senior Living Community

At-home rehabilitation means receiving rehabilitative services wherever home may be – and many times home is a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) or an assisted living community.  These senior living communities often offer dedicated rehabilitation suites and provide on-site rehab services for residents. Services may be delivered by therapists who work for a home health agency, or in some cases, onsite, in-house rehab providers.

Senior Rehab Services

Senior rehab services are solely focused on the unique needs of older adults. Services include a wide range of therapies, most commonly:

  • Physical Therapy: Typically recommended after an acute injury or joint replacement, physical therapy helps speed up the recovery process by improving mobility, strength and balance. It can also help alleviate pain from chronic conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis.
  • Occupational Therapy: This therapy type is vital if you’re recovering from an injury, illness or stroke. Occupational therapy enables participation in activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing and eating. It also has tools to help with the early stages of memory loss.
  • Speech/Language Therapy: After a stroke or traumatic brain injury, speech therapy can help teach safe techniques to decrease the risk of choking while eating and drinking. Speech therapy can also be recommended for those who have difficulty communicating, hearing, swallowing or eating.

Choosing a Rehab Facility for Seniors

Selecting the senior rehabilitation center right for you is crucial for getting the care and support you need. Here is some guidance to help you choose:

  • Research Options: Look for senior rehabilitation facilities in your area. Consider factors such as location, reputation, services offered and accreditation. Online reviews and recommendations from healthcare professionals or friends and family can also be helpful.
  • Visit: Schedule visits to potential rehabilitation centers to assess their environment, cleanliness, safety measures and overall atmosphere. Talk to staff members, observe interactions between staff and residents and ask questions about their approach to rehabilitation and care.
  • Evaluate Staff: Inquire about the qualifications and experience of the rehabilitation team. Ensure they have expertise in dealing with the unique needs of seniors.
  • Review Amenities and Services: If inpatient care is needed, be sure to consider the amenities and services offered by the rehabilitation center, such as meal options, recreational activities, social support, and access to medical care. Choose a physical rehabilitation center that provides a comfortable and supportive environment for recovery.
  • Consider Insurance Coverage: Check to see what your health insurance plan covers and if the center you are interested in accepts your insurance and/or Medicare. Understand any out-of-pocket costs and financial arrangements associated with the chosen center.
  • Seek Feedback: Ask for feedback from current or former residents and their families about their experience with the rehabilitation center.
  • Trust Your Instincts: Trust your instincts and intuition when choosing a senior rehabilitation facility. Select a center where you feel confident in the quality of care and comfortable entrusting your well-being or that of a loved one.

Payment Options and Cost

It’s important to explore options and understand what services are covered by insurance or other sources of funding. Consulting with a financial advisor or social worker who specializes in senior care can also be helpful in navigating the financial aspects of rehabilitative services. Here are the most common ways people pay for senior rehab services:

  • Health Insurance: Many health insurance plans cover most prescribed rehabilitative care.
  • Medicare: Medicare pays for rehab in skilled nursing communities for up to 100 days.
  • Medicaid: For those with limited financial resources, Medicaid may cover the cost of rehabilitative services. Eligibility for Medicaid varies by state and is based on income and other factors.
  • Long-Term Care Insurance: Some long-term care insurance policies that cover rehabilitative services. These policies typically provide coverage for a range of long-term care services, including rehabilitation.
  • Out-of-Pocket Payment: If an individual does not have insurance coverage or if certain services are not covered by insurance, they may need to pay out-of-pocket for rehabilitative services. Some facilities offer payment plans or sliding-scale fees based on income.
  • Veterans Benefits: Veterans may be eligible for rehabilitative services through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Where You Do Your Rehabilitation Matters

If you or a loved one has an upcoming surgery or your doctor is recommending rehabilitation after you’re discharged from the hospital, now is a good time to start reviewing your rehab options. It’s also a good time to start looking into how do senior rehab centers work. To learn more about assisted living and CCRCs near you that provide rehab services, use our Where You Live Matters community finder.

Where You Live Matters

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.

Originally Published: November 2, 2020 – Updated On: May 16, 2024