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Assisted Living vs. Nursing Home. 5 Key Differences and Similarities

Have you ever wondered what the differences between assisted living and nursing home are? Learn about the five key differences and similarities of both senior living options.



July 13, 2020

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When it comes to senior living options, assisted living and nursing homes are two commonly encountered terms. Often, people mistakenly think both terms are synonymous. However, it is important to understand the unique characteristics each option encompasses to ensure well-informed decision making. 

We’ve compiled a list of the pros and cons of assisted living and nursing homes to simplify this process.  


  1. Meaning 

Before we start comparing the two options, let’s first walk through the definitions of “assisted living” and “nursing homes.” 

An assisted living facility is a senior living option designated for seniors who require minimal assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), while allowing residents to maintain some form of independence. On the other hand, nursing homes meet the needs of seniors who require around the clock supervision and other medical care services. 

  1. Level of Care 

One key difference is the level of medical care that assisted living residents and nursing home residents receive. Seniors in assisted living facilities are still independent, so they do not need the level of assistance when compared to those in nursing homes. There, residents are taken care of by caregivers who help with daily tasks.  

Nursing homes are more medically equipped and offer a higher level of care for their residents, who often suffer from various medical conditions. Licensed nurses are available at all times and provide skilled care. Some nursing homes even provide rehabilitation services for residents who need occupational, physical, or speech therapy.

  1. Living Accommodations  

Assisted living facilities offer a variety of living accommodations ranging from semi-private rooms, private suites, apartments, or condos. Couples are able to move in together and some facilities even allow seniors to bring their pets with them to make the space feel more like home.

Those in nursing homes have less privacy and often have to share rooms with others. Nursing centers emulate the look of hospitals and while this bleak aesthetic may dissuade some, it’s important to remember their purpose, which is to provide the utmost medical care in order to prioritize the health and safety of residents. 

  1. Lifestyle 

Due to the differing independence of seniors in assisted living and nursing homes, their lifestyles look quite different. 

Seniors in assisted living communities have a more independent lifestyle than those in nursing homes. Due to this, these facilities offer an abundance of recreational activities and outdoor trips. This allows seniors to network and socialize with other residents.

Due to the limited capabilities of those who reside in nursing homes, nursing homes do not offer as many activities or outside excursions. As mentioned, nursing homes reflect a clinical setting where maintaining independence is not a priority. 

  1. Cost 

Assisted living is not covered by medicaid and must be paid out of pocket. The price varies from place to place but on average it has a monthly cost of $4,300. This averages to an annual cost of $51,600. Families with long term care insurance or veterans’ benefits have an easier time managing these costs.  

The cost of nursing homes may be covered by medicaid, depending on your state’s regulations. The average monthly cost for a semi-private room is $7,756 and a private room is $8,821. This totals to an annual cost of $93,075 for semi-private rooms and $105,850 for a private room. 


  1. Long-Term Care Services

Both assisted living facilities and nursing homes provide long-term care services to those that require assistance. 

  1. Require Move

Both options include housing, so it is necessary for seniors to move out of their homes or families’ homes. 

  1. Provide Custodial Care

Staff at assisted living facilities and skilled nurses provide residents with custodial care (or assistance with activities of daily living). This includes help with eating, bathing, dressing, mobility, and maintaining continence. Housekeeping, laundry services, and transportation are also provided by many facilities. 

  1. Manage Medication

As seniors age, taking medicine becomes routine and a part of their daily lives. Both assisted living and nursing facilities manage medications for seniors, ensuring that the proper medications and dosages are administered. 

  1. Create Peace of Mind

Lastly, both of these long-term care services create peace of mind for families. Aging comes with a lot of new responsibilities and needs, which often is a difficult adjustment for families. Having 24/7 supervision alleviates some of that stress and allows families to instead focus on strengthening relationships with their loved ones. The hassle of hiring, scheduling, or paying caregivers is alleviated with these services, freeing up a lot of lost time.

So which option is best?    

You might be left wondering what option is the overall best? The truth is there is no “one size fits all” for senior living options. The best option depends on the level of care that is needed and the condition/needs of the individual. 

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