What’s the Difference Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes?

These are challenging times. CarePatrol knows that you have a tough decision to make about your loved one’s care. You have questions and we can help you navigate the options. There are pros and cons to every situation. 

Senior living communities are taking added precautionary measures to ensure the safety and well being of their residents. Senior living providers are following the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including steps to minimize chances for exposure, adhering to personal protection protocols, managing visitor access, additional training for staff, stocking up on disinfectant and cleaning supplies, and boosting cleaning frequency. 

CarePatrol can provide information on the communities that are accepting residents and have implemented Covid-19 protocols to ensure your loved one’s safety.

Choosing the right senior living community is essential for ensuring that seniors have the proper resources they need. There is now a wide variety of senior living options, and each senior must find the one best suited for their unique situation. Oftentimes, people think of all senior living as a “nursing home” but there are many other senior living options aside from a nursing home. 

Two of the most common senior living options are assisted living and nursing homes, but which one is right for you or your family member? In this post, we will explore the differences between nursing homes and assisted living communities. 

Assisted Living

Assisted living is a housing option that is well-suited for seniors who can no longer live alone but still want to engage in social activities and live a relatively active lifestyle. These communities best serve residents who need help with daily activities and are looking for a long-term home. 

Many seniors, 93% in fact, are satisfied with assisted living communities, in part because of the many socialization opportunities these communities offer. The primary objective of an assisted living community is to assist residents with daily life, and most residents do not need 24/7 supervision. There may be some health criteria for new admittance, and you should always check on what options the community has for continuing care. Some top benefits of assisted living communities include:

  • Assistance with the demands of daily living (eating, dressing, bathing, etc).
  • Memory services (some communities).
  • Restaurant-style dining
  • Safety systems
  • Happy hours
  • Community activities 
  • Transportation and outings to local events, museums, stores, theaters, and more. 
  • Assistance with daily activities like housekeeping, laundry, bathing, medication, etc. 
  • Apartments designed for couples. 
  • A “homey” feel and options for a studio apartment or one-bedroom. 

Who is a Good Fit for Assisted Living?

Seniors who should consider assisted living include:

  • Those who are in good health but may need more help soon due to progressive disease. 
  • Seniors seek a maintenance-free living situation without home repairs or lawn work. 
  • Those who seek a wide variety of recreational activities. 
  • Lifestyle community focused seniors. 
  • Seniors who need minor help with medication or daily activities but do not need around-the-clock care. 

Assisted living communities also provide a high level of independence, as many residents can come and go as they please. Residents in assisted living communities may grocery shop, prepare their own meals, drive, and leave whenever they want to. 

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes, on the other hand, are for seniors who need monitoring and medical assistance at all times. These communities offer the highest level of care outside of a hospital. Many nursing home residents have severe conditions that prevent them from living independently. For admittance in a nursing home, you will need a physical exam and a prescription from a physician. Ultimately, nursing homes are meant to offer a safe, comfortable living environment for seniors who need care 24/7. Nursing homes provide:

  • Assistance with daily living including laundry and housekeeping. 
  • Supervision from a licensed physician.
  • Access to on-site providers.
  • Rehabilitation services including occupational, respiratory, vocational, physical, and speech. 
  • Short-term rehabilitation services. 
  • Dental services in state-funded nursing homes. 
  • Medication administration and management including injections. 
  • Long-term preventative and palliative care. 
  • Meal options that meet the dietary requirements for each resident. 

Who Should Consider a Nursing Home?

People who require full-time nursing care or access to facilities more similar to a hospital may be a good fit for a nursing home. Nursing homes offer a higher level of care than assisted living communities, and they are a better fit for people with complex medical needs. While some seniors may stay in nursing homes long term, many people will go for a shorter time for rehabilitation. Seniors with the following should consider a nursing home:

  • Continuous trips to the hospital. 
  • Preference for nutritious meals and on-site services that are not available for in-home care. 
  • Declining health that requires regular occupational, respiratory, or physical therapy. 
  • Inability to independently eat. 
  • An injury that requires significant rehabilitation. 

Nursing homes do not offer the same level of independence as assisted living facilities. Nursing home residents may only leave with assistance. Additionally, residents will often share a room, and the set up can feel very similar to a hospital. 


The median annual cost for assisted living is $48,000. Most assisted living residents use private pay to finance their assisted living expenses, but low-income individuals may be able to use Medicaid to cover some of the services. 

Nursing homes are significantly more expensive than assisted living communities, with a private room costing an average of over $8,000 per month. For some seniors, Medicare may cover at least a portion of the cost. Unfortunately, not all seniors will be able to get aide from Medicare or Medicaid. The coverage depends on the eligibility requirements, the specific community, and medical criteria. 

What Both Communities Offer

While nursing homes and assisted living communities have some differences in terms of medical care, lifestyle, and cost, they also have some important similarities. There are some qualities that you can expect from both assisted living and nursing homes. No matter which one you choose, you can count on:

  • Medication monitoring 
  • Nutritious meals
  • Transportation assistance
  • Assistance with activities of daily living 
  • Enrichment activities

Which Community Should You Choose?

 Overall, seniors who require extensive care should consider a nursing home. On the other hand, those who only need minimal assistance with daily activities may not need a nursing home and may find an assisted living community more fitting. If assisted living can meet the needs of the senior, then it is preferable as a nursing home will add unnecessary costs and most likely be too restrictive. 

While we are lucky to live in a time with expansive senior living options, finding the right option is incredibly important. At no cost to you, CarePatrol is happy to help guide you through the challenging processes of finding the best senior living option for you or your family member. Get started by contacting us HERE.

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