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The Difference Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

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What is the Difference Between Assisted Living and a Nursing Home? A Guide to Help Decide Between a Nursing Home vs. Assisted Living

What is assisted living? 

What is a nursing home? 

Is there anything that differentiates the two? 

These are common questions and, luckily, we have the answer. 

Knowing the difference between assisted living and nursing home facilities is an incredibly important step in choosing the right care for you or your loved one. 

Here at Senior Services of America, we know quite a bit about what makes these services unique and different. 

This guide will help you understand the difference between assisted living and nursing home care and which one might be the best fit for you or your loved one.

Table of Contents

Is Assisted Living Better Than a Nursing Home?

Yes and no. It depends on the resident and their needs. Assisted living and nursing homes are different and it is impossible to say that one is always better than the other. 

Nursing homes typically serve higher-need residents, while assisted living facilities are great for lower-need residents.

7 Differences Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

Though the two terms are often used interchangeably, assisted living facilities and nursing homes are actually two completely different things. Many people still do not fully understand the difference between the two. 

Assisted living facilities are built to help encourage independence and support, while nursing homes are structured to provide optimal medical and personal care to high-need elders. 

While many assisted living communities are more community-driven, nursing homes also often work to incorporate community and relationships into resident’s daily lives. 

It is important to know the difference between assisted living and nursing home senior care options.

#1: Level of Care Provided

One key difference between assisted living and nursing home care is the level of care that is provided to the residents. 

Nursing homes have more staff and these staff members typically carry more certifications. 

Nursing homes typically have registered nurses on staff at all times and these facilities are better equipped to care for residents with extensive medical needs. 

Assisted living facilities on the other hand offer a lower level of care. 

Note - “level of care” is not at all the same thing as quality of care. Assisted living residents still receive high-quality care. A level of care refers to the things with which the resident is assisted. 

In an assisted living facility, while there is less medical care and monitoring available, registered nurses and medical staff are still present throughout the day to assist when needed.  

These facilities are built to help promote independence while supporting the resident with the care that they need. 

Assisted living facilities can help you find:

  • Assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs)

  • Companionship

  • Community

#2: Physical Layout of the Facility

The physical layout of the facility plays a big part in the type of care that a facility is equipped to offer. 

Nursing homes are specially laid out to ensure that optimal care and quick response times are possible. 

Nursing homes often have a less “homie” feel and give off more of a professional and medical atmosphere. 

They usually strive for a comfortable and welcoming feel but their priority has to focus more on the resident's safety since they serve seniors who are at higher risk for things like falls or wandering. 

Assisted living facilities, on the other hand, are typically homier and support more of an open community atmosphere. 

These facilities are designed to be a place for seniors to find assistance and community and are therefore more geared towards independence. 

Assisted living facilities are designed to provide seniors with the minimal care they need while allowing them to retain as much independence as possible. 

Assisted living facilities typically offer residents their own room — or full suite — while nursing home residents often share a room with another resident. 

Nursing homes are designed to offer support, supervision, and care 24/7. 

#3: Living Arrangements

At Senior Services of America, we know that feeling at home is incredibly important. Our communities are designed to offer you privacy.

Nursing home residents typically share a room with another resident. 

In an assisted living facility, residents often live in apartment or studio-style housing without a roommate. 

Assisted living facilities have large community spaces and cater to recreational activities more than a nursing home might. 

Nursing homes still have some community spaces but they are less of the focus. 

When you join one of our communities, you can rest assured that you will have a lovely place to live with a great layout thoughtfully designed to ensure your comfort and safety.

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#4: Costs

One major difference between assisted living and nursing home care is the cost. 

Assisted living facilities are typically cheaper than nursing homes. 

It is not uncommon for a nursing home to cost double that of an assisted living facility. 

This makes sense because the level of care offered at a nursing home is higher and more intense than that available in an assisted living community. 

There are other ways to cover these costs and, upon some research, many find that assisted living is more affordable than it looks. 

While they are, on average, up to twice as much as assisted living, nursing homes are often covered through state and private insurance.

#5: Insurance Coverage

While there are exceptions, insurance, both state and private, typically does not cover assisted living. 

Some facilities and insurance companies step outside the norm and help with the cost, but this is rare. 

Nursing homes, on the other hand, are frequently covered, at least partially, by insurance, both state and private.

#6: Length of Stay

On average, assisted living residents spend one to two years in care. 

When it comes to nursing homes, the average stay is around 2.25 years or 835 days. 

Most folks spend a little bit longer in a nursing home than in an assisted living facility.

#7: Independence

The levels of independence vary greatly between assisted living communities and nursing homes. 

Assisted living residents can often drive themselves around in their own car and come and go as they please. 

Nursing home residents are not usually permitted to leave the facility. 

In assisted living communities, residents usually have an apartment or suite-style room without a roommate, allowing more independence.

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3 Similarities Between Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Communities

While it is important to know the assisted living or nursing home difference and what each one means for you, it is important to note that there are some similarities between the two.

#1: Medication Management

Both assisted living communities and nursing homes offer medication management for their residents. 

Some residents need regulated medications, while others just might need someone to pop in each day and ensure that they took their pills. 

Some residents, such as Alzheimer's patients,  might need someone to bring them their medications and remain with them to assist them throughout the process. 

It is important to note that assisted living facilities usually do not manage IV medications and might have some other limitations that nursing homes do not have.

#2: Enrichment Activities 

While assisted living facilities tend to emphasize community and foster relationships through enrichment activities, nursing homes still offer enrichment activities for their residents. 

Especially in recent years, both assisted living communities and nursing homes are upping their activity game by incorporating things such as:

  • Gardening

  • Cooking

  • Music

  • Outings

  • Clubs 

  • Art therapy

  • Movies

  • College-style courses

#3: Supportive Services 

Supportive services such as...

  • Transportation

  • Laundry

  • Housekeeping

  • Assistance with personal needs

… are provided by both assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

Senior couple painting together

Who Is the Best Fit for Assisted Living? 

As you begin looking at your senior care options and prepare to select a retirement community, there are some things you should know about eligibility for assisted living communities and nursing homes. 

Assisted living can be an excellent fit for many people.

If you…

  • Require minimal skilled nursing services

  • Need help managing medications

  • Need daily assistance with basic tasks such as dressing and bathing

… assisted living just might be for you. 

But there are some important requirements that you should be aware of, which we cover in the following section.

Assisted Living Requirements

Not everyone is eligible for assisted living. 

To qualify, a resident needs to meet some basic requirements

A resident of an assisted living facility should:

  • Require assistance with basic daily activities such as dressing, moving, cooking, cleaning

  • Be predictable and stable

  • Not have extensive medical needs such as a feeding tube or extensive wound care needs

Who Is the Best Fit for a Nursing Home?

Nursing homes offer higher levels of care than assisted living facilities. 

Folks who need a higher level of care might find a nursing home to be a great fit for them, but those who simply need some general assistance throughout the day probably won’t fit in well.

Nursing Home Requirements

Just like assisted living, there are requirements for admission into a nursing home as well. 

First, you need some documents including: 

  • Physician's order for nursing home admission

  • Physician's order for your medication and treatments

  • Documents of health tests

  • State forms

Once you have compiled your forms, you will need to ensure that you meet these criteria:

  • A need for 24/7 care and monitoring

  • Assistance with medical needs beyond what can be offered in less skilled environments

  • Have a severe enough health condition that qualifies you

Want to Know More About the Differences Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes? The Compassionate Team Members at Senior Services of America Communities Can Help You Make the Best Choice for Your Needs

We know that selecting the best care for you can be a daunting task. 

Countless options can leave your head spinning. 

If you are still wondering more about the difference between assisted living and nursing home care, our incredible team members at Senior Services of America communities are here to help. 

We would love to walk you through your options and help you make the best decision for you.

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Senior Services of America

800-689-0493

1201 Pacific Avenue Suite 450 Tacoma, WA 98402 US