Senior care often falls into two buckets: Short-term care and long-term care. However, it can be difficult for seniors, their families, and their friends to know which is more appropriate for meeting their needs. A doctor will steer patients toward the care they need, but some might be interested to know the differences between these two common forms of senior care. Here are three crucial differences between long-term and short-term care.

3 Differences Between Short- and Long-Term Care, A.G. Rhodes

Rehabilitation vs. Palliative Care

The difference between short-term care and long-term care constitutes the difference between rehabilitation and palliative care. Folks receiving long-term care require constant treatment for chronic conditions, like neurological injuries brought on by stroke, or musculoskeletal injuries that cause permanent disability. This type of care is called “palliative,” and it includes long-term treatment for serious and chronic illness.

By contrast, short-term senior care is designed for rehabilitation. In other words, the individual receiving treatment will eventually transition from the care center back to their home. This type of treatment is often required after a surgery or an acute injury.

Financial Commitments

As with most health care options, there are significant differences when it comes to financing short-term care versus long-term care. Short-term options are often less expensive and covered by Medicare. Long-term care, however, is ongoing and can last years. If a senior owns their home, long-term care may require something like a cash-out home mortgage refinance, or possibly selling the home to help fund care. Medicare is known to provide some support for long-term options, but expect to tap into other sources of savings to support a long-term care plan.

Defining Care Goals

For seniors, short-term care often accompanies a specific, defined health goal. The target outcome will rely on the individual’s reason for needing short-term care. Common examples include regaining mobility after an accident, recovering from acute illness, and healing after surgery. By contrast, long-term care treats chronic conditions. This means symptom management is the primary – and often the only – goal.


While a doctor will provide a recommended treatment plan for their patient, family and friends are usually curious to know all the options. Understanding the difference between short-term and long-term senior care can help loved ones make better, more informed decisions for their elder friends.