Assisted Living vs Nursing Homes: How Do They DifferSkip to content

Assisted Living and Nursing Home’s Key Differences

Published: Dec 29, 2022. Last Updated: Jan 5, 2023.

It can be difficult for families to understand the difference between an assisted living facility and a nursing home when it's time to make a decision about long-term care for their elderly loved ones. Both types of residences offer care and assistance for older adults, but differ in the type of services they provide and their focus.

The best way to determine which option is ideal for you is to learn more about the key distinctions between them. To help you understand the differences between the two, let's go over some of the key points that separate assisted living and nursing homes.

Assisted living facilities provide a much-needed service for seniors who can no longer live alone but still want to maintain a relatively active lifestyle. These facilities often cultivate a strong sense of community among residents, which is something many seniors appreciate.

Nursing homes, on the other hand, serve seniors who require constant monitoring and medical assistance. These facilities offer the highest level of care for elders who don't require hospitalization. Seniors who need to be in a nursing home often require 24-hour nursing care.

So what are the key differences of Assisted Living and Nursing Homes?

Medical Care and Support

  • Assistance to the daily task
  • Medication management
  • Provision of medical services
  • Enrichment and wellness activities
  • Counseling and therapy

Medical care and support are essential to ensure that seniors remain healthy and safe. This support can include the provision of medical services, such as regular check-ups and monitoring of health conditions. This also includes medication management, which ensures that seniors take the correct medications in the right quantity and at the right time.

Medical care and support not only address physical needs but also provide help with everyday tasks, allowing seniors to hold on to their independence for longer. Enrichment and wellness activities are also key components of medical care and support. These can involve exercise classes, music programs, art classes, social events, or outings—anything that helps keep seniors mentally and physically sharp.

Finally, medical care and support can also include emotional support services such as counseling and therapy to help seniors cope with the changes that come with aging. These services allow seniors to express their feelings in a safe and secure environment.

Assisted Living

Medical care and support services are among the most important benefits that assisted living facilities offer. The level of care provided to residents in these facilities can vary, based on the needs and preferences of each individual.

Generally speaking, most assisted living facilities provide basic daily medical support such as assistance with medications, health monitoring, and assessments. In these facilities, seniors receive assistance with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, dressing, and bathing. Assistance also includes providing meals and helping seniors get around the facility.

Assisted living facilities not only assist with activities of daily living, but also offer recreational activities, social programs, and outings to help keep seniors engaged in their community. When it comes to medical and emotional support services, assisted living facilities often have a staff of registered nurses and other healthcare professionals on-site to provide the necessary care.

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes provide a higher level of medical care and support than assisted living facilities. They employ registered nurses, physical therapists, and other health professionals who are available 24 hours a day to monitor the health of their residents.

They offer social programs and outings similar to those catered in assisted living facilities. However, nursing homes also provide more comprehensive medical services including physical therapy and rehabilitative care. These facilities are also even better equipped to offer comprehensive medical support, but they may be more expensive than assisted living facilities. In general, individuals admitted to nursing homes are usually in need of a higher level of care due to more complex health issues.

Living Space

Assisted Living

Assisted living facilities strive to create an environment that feels like home. Residents have their own private apartment, with features like a kitchenette or full kitchen as well as a bathroom. The level of independence is usually greater than what you would find in a nursing home, where most residents live in shared rooms without a kitchen or private bathroom.

There is often an option to upgrade living space in assisted living facilities, which may include more amenities such as additional closet space, larger bathrooms, or even completely furnished spaces. Additionally, there are common areas where residents can socialize and participate in activities.

Nursing Homes

On the other hand, nursing homes provide more of an institutional setting with shared rooms for residents as well as shared bathrooms. There is less of an emphasis on personal space and privacy here than there is in assisted living. Residents often have their bed and dresser but don't have much else that is their own.

Furthermore, because most nursing home residents are elderly, the design of the facility must consider age-related physical and mental disabilities, such as vision impairment. Also, using comforting colors, textures, and finishes familiar to elders can help create a more home-like atmosphere while preventing disorientation and agitation among residents.

Services and Amenities

Assisted Living

Assisted living facilities provide services and amenities like assistance with housekeeping, laundry, and maintenance. They often offer transportation to medical appointments or shopping trips.

Residents in assisted living facilities have the option to either cook for themselves in their kitchenettes or dine in community dining rooms. Some facilities also offer meal delivery services at an additional cost. Dining rooms operate throughout the day, with set times when meals are served.

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes on the other hand may not offer these types of services as they are usually more focused on medical care than lifestyle activities. However, many do provide basic amenities like housekeeping and laundry.

Nursing home dietitians create meal plans specifically for each resident, considering their personal preferences and needs. If a resident struggles to eat independently, they will require help from an aide. Depending on the wishes of the resident and how mobile they are, meals can either be served in communal dining areas or within their own room.

Not only do nursing homes provide the same level of assistance with daily living tasks as assisted living communities, but they also offer additional services that may include:

  • Palliative care: This care is designed to ease pain and discomfort for those with a terminal illness
  • Rehabilitation services: This includes physical, occupational, speech, and other therapies that can help seniors recover from an injury or medical event.
  • Medical treatments: Nursing homes are staffed with qualified medical personnel and can provide services like wound care and intravenous therapy.
  • Mobility assistance: Nursing homes provide mobility assistance and help with walking, transferring to a bed or chair, etc.

Who Should Consider Assisted Living?

Assisted living communities are for seniors who want to feel independent, active, and social. These environments provide activities that support senior wellness, intellectual stimulation, and social connection. They provide a safe setting with staff that offers assistance when needed. Seniors in assisted living typically have activities like social gatherings, arts and crafts, exercise classes, educational lectures, and other enrichment opportunities.

In general, these are the types of people who should consider assisted living:

  • Individuals who want to remain independent and don't need extensive medical care
  • Individuals who need assistance with everyday activities like dressing and bathing
  • Individuals who want a maintenance-free lifestyle
  • Individuals who like being close to their friends and social activities.

Who Should Consider Nursing Homes?

Nursing homes take in two types of residents: those staying for a brief period to recover from an injury or surgery, and those with chronic conditions who need 24-hour medical care and supervision. If your elderly loved one falls into either category, then a nursing home might be the best option – especially if they're wheelchair-bound.

The common issues of those who should consider nursing homes include:

  • Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or stroke
  • Physical disabilities, such as muscular dystrophy or dementia
  • Mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety
  • Loss of independence due to age, Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other cognitive issues

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About the Author

Ericka Nicolas

Writer & Researcher

Elder Guide LLC

Ericka Nicolas began her career in the banking industry where she learned the importance of being detail-oriented and well-organized, both of which she applies to her current work as a writer and proofreader. With her vast experience in writing, Ericka is able to produce well-researched and engaging content that appeals to Elderguide's target audience. She was able to provide readers with valuable insights on a variety of topics and ensures that all the information she provides is accurate and up-to-date. She takes the time to carefully study each topic given to her, which allows her to produce truly informative articles. Ericka's passion for writing and her dedication to producing quality content gave way to her goal of helping our readers navigate the complex world of senior living and make informed decisions about their future. Aside from her work at Elderguide, Ericka enjoys spending time with her newly-married husband and their dog, Yari. She loves cooking, traveling, and exploring new restaurants in her spare time.