Assisted Living vs Nursing Home

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on April 24, 2023

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Assisted Living vs Nursing Home: Overview

Assisted living and nursing homes are both long-term care options for seniors who need assistance with daily living activities. The key difference between the two is the level of medical care provided.

Assisted living facilities are designed for seniors who need help with daily living activities but are generally in good health.

Residents of assisted living facilities typically have their own apartments or rooms and have access to various services and amenities, such as transportation, meals, housekeeping, and laundry services.

Such facilities also offer different levels of medical attention, depending on individual needs. Some residents may only require assistance with medication management, while others may need more frequent medical care.

On the other hand, nursing homes are designed for seniors requiring round-the-clock medical care. They are staffed by nursing professionals who provide care for residents with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

Nursing homes also offer rehabilitative services, such as physical, occupational, respiratory, and speech therapy. Some residents may live in nursing homes long-term, while others may be admitted for a shorter rehabilitation period after a hospital stay.

Understanding the differences between assisted living and nursing homes is important to decide which option is best for you or your loved one.

What Is Assisted Living?

Assisted living is a type of long-term care facility that helps seniors with daily living activities while also offering various services and amenities to improve their quality of life.

Its facility typically offers residents their own apartments or rooms and provides housekeeping, laundry, and meal services.

It also provides various levels of medical attention, depending on individual needs. Some residents may only require assistance with medication management, while others may need more frequent medical care.

Most assisted living facilities have staff available 24/7 to help residents with medical emergencies.

Typical services and amenities provided in assisted living facilities include:

  • Personal care services, such as help with bathing, dressing, and grooming

  • Medication management

  • Transportation services

  • Housekeeping and laundry services

  • Nutritious meals and snacks

  • Social and recreational activities

  • Access to on-site fitness centers, libraries, and beauty salons

  • Memory care for residents with dementia or other memory-related conditions

What Is a Nursing Home?

Nursing homes, also known as nursing facilities, are designed for seniors who require round-the-clock medical care. Nursing homes are staffed by nursing professionals who provide care for residents with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

In addition to medical care, nursing homes offer various rehabilitative services to help residents recover from injuries or illnesses. These services include physical, occupational, respiratory, and speech therapy.

Typical services and amenities provided in nursing homes include:

  • 24-hour nursing care

  • Rehabilitation services

  • Nutritious meals and snacks

  • Housekeeping and laundry services

  • Social and recreational activities

  • Memory care for residents with dementia or other memory-related conditions

Differences Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

Differences exist between assisted living and nursing homes. This includes:

Level of Care and Medical Services

The key difference between assisted living and nursing homes is the level of medical care provided. Assisted living facilities help residents with daily living activities and various levels of medical attention, depending on individual needs.

Nursing homes, on the other hand, provide round-the-clock medical care and rehabilitation services.

Cost

The cost of assisted living and nursing homes can vary depending on factors such as location, amenities, and level of care needed.

Nursing homes are generally more expensive than assisted living facilities because of the higher level of medical care provided.

Factors that influence cost differences between the two types of facilities include:

  • Location. The cost of long-term care can vary depending on the location of the facility. Generally, facilities located in urban areas are more expensive than those in rural areas.

  • Amenities. Facilities that offer more amenities, such as swimming pools and fitness centers, tend to be more expensive than those that offer basic services.

  • Level of Care Needed. Nursing homes provide a higher level of medical care than assisted living facilities, which makes them more expensive.

According to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the average monthly cost for assisted living in the United States is $4,500, while the average monthly cost for a private room in a nursing home is $9,034.

Insurance and payment options for long-term care can vary depending on the facility and individual needs.

Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance plans may cover some of the costs of long-term care. Veterans and their spouses may be eligible for the Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to help cover long-term care costs.

Facility Amenities and Lifestyle

Assisted living and nursing homes offer different living arrangements and amenities.

Assisted living facilities typically offer residents their own apartments or rooms and provide various services and amenities to improve their quality of life. Nursing homes may offer private or shared rooms and provide basic services and amenities.

Some of the differences in facility amenities and lifestyle between the two types of facilities include:

  • Social and Recreational Activities. Assisted living facilities typically offer a wide range of social and recreational activities, such as arts and crafts, book clubs, and exercise classes.

Nursing homes may offer fewer activities due to the higher level of medical care needed by residents.

  • Living Arrangements. Assisted living facilities typically offer residents their own apartments or rooms, while nursing homes may offer private or shared rooms.

  • Dining Options. Assisted living facilities typically offer communal dining areas where residents can eat meals together, while nursing homes may provide meals in residents' rooms.

  • Health Care & Senior Safety. Assisted living facilities provide various levels of medical attention, depending on individual needs. Nursing homes provide round-the-clock medical care and rehabilitation services.

  • Staff Training. Nursing homes typically have a higher staff-to-resident ratio than assisted living facilities, and the staff is trained to provide medical care to residents.

  • Emergency Response Systems. Assisted living facilities may have emergency response systems in place to alert staff in case of medical emergencies, while nursing homes typically have staff available 24/7 to respond to emergencies.

Assisted Living vs Nursing Homes

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

Choosing between assisted living and nursing homes can be a difficult decision. Some factors to consider when making a decision include the following:

Personal Preferences and Needs

Consider the individual's preferences and needs when choosing between assisted living and nursing homes.

For example, assisted living may be a better option if the individual prefers to live independently and requires only basic medical care.

A nursing home may be the better choice if the individual requires round-the-clock medical care.

Family Involvement and Support

Consider the level of family involvement and support when making a decision.

If family members are able to provide some level of care and support, assisted living may be a better option.

If family members are unable to provide care and support, a nursing home may be the better choice.

Geographic Location and Accessibility

Consider the geographic location and accessibility of the facility when making a decision.

Facilities located close to family members and medical providers may be more convenient and accessible.

Level of Care Needed

Consider the individual's level of care needed when choosing between assisted living and nursing homes.

Assisted living may be a better option if the individual requires only basic medical care.

A nursing home may be the better choice if the individual requires round-the-clock medical care and rehabilitation services.

The Bottom Line

Choosing the right long-term care option for a loved one or oneself can be challenging.

Assisted living and nursing homes are both viable options for seniors who require assistance with daily living activities. The key difference between the two is the level of medical care provided.

Assisted living facilities provide residents with help with daily living activities and various levels of medical attention, depending on individual needs.

Nursing homes provide round-the-clock medical care and rehabilitation services.

When making a decision between assisted living and nursing homes, consider factors such as personal preferences and needs, family involvement and support, geographic location and accessibility, and level of care needed.

By understanding the differences between assisted living and nursing homes and considering these factors, you can decide which option is best for you or your loved one.

Assisted Living vs Nursing Home FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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