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Vs. Nursing Homes
Assisted Living Compared to Nursing Homes

How is an Assisted Living Facility different from a Nursing Home? Families and seniors get confused on which place is better to live: Assisted living or Nursing home. Don't be mistaken--they're very different! Both have differences... and similarities. Sometimes, a retirement community offers both; assisted living and a nursing home facility. That's called a continuum of care retirement community.

Continuum of care is an integrated system of care that monitors and tracks a resident over time through an all-inclusive range of health services. The model encourages the delivery of optimum health care to the residents.

Facilities that offer a continuum of care have both nursing home services and assisted living residences. In addition, a nursing home is the term that has been most commonly used for senior residences that offer healthcare while assisted living is a more recent type of senior care offering that caters to those who seek a bit less care and more independence.

Assisted Living Facilities

What is Assisted Living

Adults view assisted living as an independent option because they have the safeguards in place if residents need more support. Support services include; basic activities of daily living like bathing, grooming, dressing, and toileting. Because individual states regulate assisted living facilities, not federal, some states allow facilities to offer medication assistance and/or reminders.

Assisted living facilities range from standalone apartments or a cottage to a studio, one bedroom, or a large shared bedroom. The environment is appealing because it feels like home. Kitchenettes are available and feature a small refrigerator and microwave.

Assisted living does not offer complex medical services.

Nursing Homes

What is a nursing home

The main difference between assisted living facilities and nursing homes is the level of care a resident receives and the freedom given to the resident.

In nursing homes, residents are under constant medical supervision, in need of assistance with daily living and are not capable of living independently anymore, at all.

The residents in a nursing home are more like patients and unable to leave the facility on their own, mainly because they are physically or mentally powerless. While some residents in assisted living might need assistance with medicine management, bathing and other tasks, they are capable of handling most of the daily living activities on their own.

Assisted living residents might still drive, cook their own meals, come and go freely, have security of medical supervision, and social interaction with other residents. Nursing home residents do not.

Nursing homes provide living options for seniors in needs of varying levels of medical supervision for years while assisted living residences have become more popular in the last few decades.

Nursing Homes Deliver Complex Medical Services

Skilled Care - Intensive skilled care administered to patients requiring specialized care. Residents admitted to skilled nursing homes require constant monitoring, with complex medical procedures and services given by registered nurses. Complex medical services or intensive care treatment involves ventilator services, severe wound management, and tracheotomy care.

Skilled Nursing and Rehab Care - This care is under supervision of a licensed medical physician and administered on a daily basis by either a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. It's often a part of a rehabilitation process administered as a long-term aid for a chronic illness or surgery. Skilled nursing procedures are wound care, intravenous injections, and feeding.

Intermediate Care - Most residents at this level are experiencing a long-term physical or emotional illness and are stable but need a registered nurse to monitor them. Intermediate care examples are physical therapy, administration of medication, and medical supervision.

Custodial care - does not apply to a medical condition and administered by non-medical personnel. Custodial care gives help in feeding, bathing and dressing.

Assisted Living Delivers Less Complex Medical Services

  • Access to health care and medical services customized to specific needs.
  • Assistance with eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, and walking as needed
  • 24-hour emergency call systems for each resident
  • Three meals a day served in dining area, housekeeping, and laundry services.
  • Shuttle buses and transportation
  • Exercise and wellness programs
  • Other services you can expect to receive at an assisted living facility:
  • Available staff available to meet needs
  • 24-hour assistance with activities of daily living: Bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting
  • Three meals a day and snacks between meals
  • Housekeeping services
  • Transportation as needed
  • Pharmacy, barber, hair stylist, and/or physical therapy services offered on-site

Facility Differences between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

When thinking about nursing homes, a person associates it with limited privacy like 2 beds to a room, nurses or aides roaming the halls and checking on residences while providing medical assistance. There are cafeterias and social areas where the residents eat and interact.

Although many assisted living facilities resemble nursing homes, many licensed assisted living residences are drastically different. They range from a converted house that looks more like a bed and breakfast to a huge campus with numerous apartments. Since each state sets regulations on assisted living licensing, there is a wide diversity of licensed assisted living residences.

The table below compares the services of a Nursing Home and an Assisted Living Facility:

Comparison of services offered in Assisted Living Facilities | Nursing Homes

Assisted Living | Nursing Homes

Minor Medical Supervision Yes | Yes

Extensive Medical Care No | Yes

Personal Care Assistance (bathing, dressing, etc.) Yes | Yes

24-hour supervision Yes | Yes

Security and Emergency Call Systems Yes | Yes

Housekeeping Services Yes | Yes

Social Activities Yes | Yes

Meals Yes | Yes

Resident's Freedom More | Independence More Restrictive

Transportation Yes | Yes

Most Resident's Health Average | Health Issues More Severe Health Problems

Private Pay In Many Cases | Medicaid Accepted

Please note the comparisons above are to illustrate the general differences between typical assisted living facilities and nursing homes. In many cases, assisted living facilities are on campuses or in the same building complex as nursing homes, so the types of services available vary. Since no nationwide standard exists that defines assisted living facilities, the range of services offered vary greatly too.

Carol Marak
Carol Marak

After seven years of helping her aging parents, Carol Marak has become a dedicated senior care writer. Since 2007, she has been doing the research to find answers to common concerns: housing, aging and health, staying safe and independent, and planning long-term.