Difference between assisted living and nursing home

Difference Between Assisted Living and Nursing Home: 6 Key Distinctions

Moving from home to a seniors’ facility can be challenging for you or your loved ones. Besides the challenge of finding a suitable facility, it calls for leaving the place that holds many memories to a whole new environment which can be a lot to take in for most people.

Moving to a senior’s facility means giving up autonomy and independence, which can be difficult for anyone. Senior adult facilities are divided into two main categories: assisted living and nursing homes. So, what’s the difference between assisted living and nursing home?

At a glance, one may assume that they are the same thing, but they are not. Primarily, assisted living offers a residential environment, while a nursing home is more of a medical facility. Here are some of the critical areas where they differ.

What’s the Difference between Assisted Living and Nursing Home?

1. Medical services

In an assisted living facility, residents have average old-age medical attention on different levels depending on individual needs. Some of these needs may include transportation to doctor’s appointments and assistance in taking medication. Some assisted living facilities also cater to residents who have dementia and other conditions affecting memory loss. Seniors in assisted homes are relatively healthy and may only need assistance in doing complex tasks.

In a nursing home, however, residents are usually in need of medical assistance round the clock. By law, nursing homes must have a nurse at least eight hours a day to cater to residents with chronic illnesses or those needing occupational, physical, respiratory, and speech therapy.

2. The Setting

The main difference you will notice after visiting an assisted family facility and a nursing home is the appearance. While a nursing home is more institutional in appearance, an assisted living facility looks more like an apartment community. The residents of an assisted living facility usually live in individual apartments and can have the privilege of living with their aged spouse.

 On the other hand, a nursing home is more of a health institution due to the type of care they provide, and residents usually share a room with other residents.

3. Meals

In assisted living, residents are at liberty to choose to cook their meals or take meals in the common kitchenettes. At some facilities, meals are delivered to individual residents at a fee, while others may have dining rooms open at certain hours to serve residents.

For residents in a nursing home, their food is prepared by facility dieticians and served depending on the residents’ preference and mobility. For some, food is delivered in their rooms, while others may opt to have them in the communal dining area.

4. Level of Independence

Since the residents in an assisted living setting are relatively healthy, they enjoy many freedoms and almost total control of their daily schedule. The residents are at liberty to decide the degree of assistance they will require and how often they need it.

However, for residents of a nursing home, their independence level is minimal because of their health complications. This means that they will need around-the-clock monitoring and assistance, and their schedule may be mainly in the control of their caregivers.

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5. The Goal of The Residency

The goal of assisted living facilities is to offer the residents the best quality of life possible on a more permanent basis. Moving to an assisted living facility is more like moving from one home to another. In assisted living, there is staff tasked with helping the residents with some tasks that are out of their ability to perform, like bathing, dressing, walking upstairs or meal preparation.

On the other hand, a nursing home’s goal is rehabilitation until an individual can return to some sort of independence following an injury or a medical procedure.  It is more of a temporal residence. It is common to find residents of an assisted facility moving into a nursing home if they need specialized care and return to assisted living once they achieve a level of independence.

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6. Cost

Typically, assisted living costs are much lower than that of a nursing home because of the level of services and care provided. Although it is essential to consider cost when choosing the suitable facility for you or your loved one, it is not the most critical factor in determining the kind of care needed.

FAQs: Difference Between Assisted Living and Nursing Home

How do I choose a suitable facility?

Once you have identified the type of care you need for yourself or your loved one, you will need to scout for the suitable facility best suited for your needs or those of your loved one. A good facility must:

  • Have proper operational licenses.
  • Have an accurate and up-to-date health audit report.
  • Have happy and well cared for residents.
  • Have the right staff to resident ratio.
  • Provide you with a copy of their contract for review.

Whenever possible, it is preferable to visit a facility more than once and ask around from neighbors, workmates, and friends before settling for one.

Are there other options besides assisted living and nursing homes?

Yes, there are. If you wish to live more independently, these two options may not be ideal for you. You may consider hiring home health aides to help care for you or an older loved one at home.

Shared housing is another popular option where several older adults live together or with a younger person. This helps in cutting on housing costs as well as kill loneliness and isolation.

Another option could be Board and Care Homes, otherwise referred to as Adult Family Homes. These are ideal for seniors looking for companionship but do not need extensive medical care. In this setting, several adults live in one house with a caregiver on site.

Is assisted living and nursing home services covered by insurance?

Since nursing home services are healthcare providers, they are covered by most health insurance policies with few exemptions. However, many health insurance policies do not cover assisted living, but certain long-term care insurance policies may cover them. In some states, it is possible to receive financing for assisted living through Medicaid programs.


Choosing a home for yourself or your older loved one can be intimidating, considering it involves leaving the place you or your loved one has been accustomed to over the years to an entirely new environment. In recent years, senior living choices have expanded even as the needs and expectations change. When choosing a facility for yourself or your loved one, an excellent place to start is by identifying the different types of facilities available for you according to your specific needs. This article highlights the main difference between assisted living and nursing home facilities that you may need to consider before determining the correct type of facility for you or your loved one.

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