The Difference Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

Assisted living is a type of housing that provides care to meet the everyday needs of seniors with varying levels of disabilities. Assisted living can be an ideal alternative for seniors who are still independent but would like some extra help. Assisted living communities often provide:

  • 24-hour supervision and security
  • Emergency response systems in each apartment
  • Housekeeping, laundry, and social services
  • Nutritious meals in a communal dining room
  • Transportation to appointments, resident activities, and more

The majority of assisted living communities also offer basic medical care. This is often provided by a nurse who makes regular visits or just a few times a week. If you need additional medical attention beyond what is provided in the community, you can consult your doctor about an assisted living facility that offers more intensive medical supervision.

Assisted Living Facility Pros and Cons

Some seniors prefer assisted living because it offers greater freedom than a nursing home while still offering around-the-clock supervision. Assisted living may offer additional services like scheduled transportation or social activities.  This can be particularly attractive to seniors who enjoy an active lifestyle and appreciate the availability of other people. Assisted living communities that offer a wider selection of services typically cost more than those that offer fewer amenities.

Assisted Living Pros

  • Provides senior housing, as opposed to nursing home care
  • Offers freedom and independence with the comfort of extra assistance
  • Provides 24-hour supervision, medical care when needed, social activities, and more
  • Costs typically an average of $4,300 per month according to the 2020 Genworth Financial Cost of Care Survey 

Assisted Living Cons

  • Resembles a nursing home environment because it provides or coordinates healthcare services in addition to housing
  • Assisted living facilities do not provide 24/7 care (i.e., some residents may need to call the front desk for assistance in getting something to eat or drink)

What Is a Nursing Home?

A nursing home is an institution designed to provide full-time medical and geriatric care for the chronically ill, the elderly, and the convalescent.  In most cases, a nursing home is a privately owned institution that requires the resident to pay for all or part of their care.  Some nursing homes accept direct payment from government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, or private health insurance; others may not.

Nursing Home Pros and Cons

Some seniors prefer living in a nursing home because of the greater amount of clinical and medical care than what is offered in an assisted living facility. Nursing homes offer round-the-clock care, meals, housekeeping services, and help with activities of daily living such as bathing and dressing. Nurses can provide medication reminders and can maintain medical records for each resident.  Additional amenities may include recreational activities, religious services, beauty programs, and assistance with grooming. Nursing home care is typically more expensive than assisted living facilities.

Nursing Home Pros

  • Provides 24/7 medical attention to meet the needs of seniors with chronic conditions or other serious health problems
  • Offers a greater range of amenities, including around-the-clock nursing care, housekeeping services, and more
  • Offers privacy (i.e., residents do not have to share their living space)

Nursing Home Cons

  • Nursing homes typically provide institutionalized care that is not as personal or homelike as an assisted living community
  • The menu for nursing home meals may be less appetizing than the food served at an assisted living facility
  • Nursing homes have stricter visiting hours and do not allow overnight guests for extended periods

Comparison of Assisted Living and Nursing Home

Comparison of Assisted Living and Nursing Home

Choosing the Best Type of Senior Housing

As you begin to research senior housing options, it can be difficult to know which type is best for you and your senior loved ones. 

Independence

Assisted living facilities offer the independence seniors need while still providing much-needed assistance when needed.  Nursing homes, on the other hand, offer round-the-clock care for seniors with acute or chronic conditions that require medical attention.

Medical Services

The best place for your loved one will depend primarily on what type of medical services are required.  Both assisted living and nursing homes are regulated by the government in most states, so you can feel confident knowing that your loved one is being cared for in a safe environment. 

Cost

Assisted living communities typically charge by the month and can vary depending on location and amenities offered. Nursing homes usually charge residents a daily rate that covers room, board, meals, and any other services required.  Choosing the right senior housing option for your loved one requires careful consideration of what is best for their individual needs. 

Key Takeaways

Assisted living facilities provide your loved one with the necessary care to maintain their independence, while still offering much-needed assistance when in need.  Nursing homes provide around-the-clock medical attention for seniors with acute or chronic conditions that require more intensive care.  If your elderly loved one needs self-directed services, an assisted living facility may be the best choice. If your loved one requires specialized medical services that are not offered at assisted living facilities, a nursing home may be necessary.  Regardless of which type of senior housing you choose; it is important to consider what is best for your loved one’s individual needs.

Assisted living provides housing and support services to seniors who need help with daily activities, but want to retain some degree of independence.
Nursing homes offer more medical services than assisted living facilities, including round-the-clock nursing and medical care.
Pros include self-directed services, help with daily activities, more time for family visits, and are typically affordable. Cons include not being able to live independently or have privacy due to sharing a home with other senior residents.
Include 24-hour medical supervision by qualified personnel and a home-like environment that can be comforting for residents. However, it includes strict visiting hours, and not being able to have overnight guests.
Assisted living facilities offer housing, while nursing homes provide intensive medical care, so you should consider what your loved one's needs to determine the best type of senior housing for them.

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

About the Author
True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.