Examples of skilled nursing therapies for seniors

Skilled nursing is a type of intensive medical care provided by highly qualified care professionals. There are many reasons seniors and their caregivers might seek out skilled nursing care, including:

  • Stroke recovery
  • Injury recovery
  • Post-surgery rehabilitation
  • Chronic or progressive medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes
  • Advanced dementia or Parkinson’s disease
  • Other conditions requiring around-the-clock medical care

A patient’s time in skilled nursing may be short- or long-term depending on their condition and the personalized care plan recommended by their doctor and care team.

Personalized care plans are key to skilled nursing: Because every patient and their health is unique, no patient’s course of treatment will be identical to another patient’s.

What therapies does skilled nursing offer?

The therapies a patient receives in skilled nursing depend on why they’ve entered the facility and how serious their needs are. 

Some of the treatments offered in skilled nursing facilities may sound similar to those offered in rehabilitation facilities and even assisted living, and there is some overlap.

But in general, rehab is more intensive and shorter-term than skilled nursing. And skilled nursing offers more specialized medical care than assisted living does, though both offer help with activities of daily living.

A senior’s personalized care plan will include a combination of many different treatment types, including the ones we’ll describe in the sections to come.

A nurse guides a woman with a weight in her hand.

Help with activities of daily living

Similar to assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities can help patients navigate activities of daily living (ADLs), including:
  • Walking
  • Transferring, including from bed to a chair, or into a wheelchair or walker
  • Feeding
  • Dressing 
  • Grooming
  • Bathing
  • Toileting

The main difference between skilled nursing and assisted living: assisted living is a long-term residential move. Skilled nursing may be shorter-term, but skilled nursing caregivers can still assist with ADLs as needed — likely in tandem with physical or occupational therapies — while patients work to regain their independence as much as possible.

Physical therapy

In skilled nursing, physical therapy helps patients maintain and build physical function as they age, or regain what they lost because of an injury, illness or surgical procedure.

Physical therapists might perform hands-on manipulation of muscles and joints or supervise exercises to help a patient to reduce pain and inflammation levels, build strength and increase range of motion.

A care professional leads a man through physical therapy exercises.

Speech therapy

Speech-language therapists in skilled nursing work with a variety of patients, including those with dementia, patients who have suffered a stroke and those who have developed swallowing disorders (also known as dysphagia).

Speech therapists can devise treatments that address cognition, memory, speech and even eating and swallowing.

Occupational therapy

The main role of an occupational therapist is to help patients regain or improve their ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) — and, by extension, regain or improve their sense of independence.

They can help seniors adjust to new physical and cognitive realities of aging and any conditions that led them to seek skilled nursing care. This may also include suggestions for how to adapt a patient’s home environment and make ADLs more accessible.

Occupational therapists even assist with education and support for patients and their loved ones about chronic diseases.

Wound management and skin care

For patients recovering from an injury or surgery, skilled nursing caregivers can monitor and dress wounds or incisions and administer antibiotics to prevent infection.

Patients living with chronic wounds, including ulcers, may need more specialized care, and some facilities offer advanced treatments such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy and more.

Medication administration and monitoring

As seniors age and their healthcare needs change, they may require a variety of prescriptions to manage both chronic and acute health concerns.

When managing those medications’ dosage, timing and even administration become more complex than a senior or an at-home caregiver can handle, skilled nursing is an option.

A care professional gives a bowl to an older woman.

Skilled nursing caregivers can ensure their patients take the right amount of their medications at the right time, whether orally, intravenously or via a catheter. They can also monitor for side effects and ensure they’re tolerating the medication well.

Hydration and nutrition monitoring

Patients in skilled nursing may also need help ensuring they get the fluids and nutrients they need to remain healthy and be as successful as possible throughout the other treatments they’re receiving.

Skilled nursing caregivers will monitor the food and water patients are taking in if they’re eating and drinking independently. They can also ensure that intravenous hydration systems and feeding tubes are properly inserted and maintained.

Skilled nursing in CCRCs like Vi

Skilled nursing therapies aren’t on everyone’s minds when they begin thinking about senior living.

But if you’re planning ahead and want to keep enjoying retirement and secure access to future care, should you need it, Continuing Care Retirement Communities (or CCRCs) could fit the bill.

In CCRCs, skilled nursing is just one part of the full continuum of care. Residents can easily transition — often with little to no increase in their monthly costs, beyond certain ancillary expenses — from independent living to a care center with assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care.

A group of residents work out.
Vi’s 10 Life Plan Communities offer skilled nursing in our care centers, and our team is ready to answer your questions about our whole-person approach to care, help you schedule a care center tour, or share what life is like in our communities.