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Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes: What’s the Difference?

Assisted living facilities and nursing homes are two options on the spectrum of senior housing and senior care. But what are the differences? Think of them this way: the Assisted living is housing that provides some care. Nursing homes are primarily caring facilities that also provide housing.

We’ll discuss assisted living vs. nursing homes further in this article and explain their similarities and differences.

Assisted Living Helps Seniors With Self-Care

woman helping older man in chair, to illustrate assisted living

Most assisted living residents don’t need constant supervision. Some assisted living facilities will have a resident nurse, maybe even an onsite health clinic. However, the focus of assisted living is to help residents with daily living activities, such as bathing, dressing, eating and taking medicines. Emergency medical care is always available through the usual channels.

Still, assisted living homes aren’t required to have skilled nursing staff. The level of medical care isn’t the same as what nursing homes offer.

Nursing Homes Provide Medical Care

nurse helping woman with walker, to illustrate nursing homes

Nursing homes, also called skilled nursing care centers, are mainly for adults with serious medical needs. According to a 2005 AARP study, nearly half of nursing home residents had dementia, and more than half spent most of their time in bed or in a wheelchair.

Many nursing home residents have physical or mental health issues that require attention from nursing professionals. That care must be available 24 hours a day, every day.

Still, many people in nursing homes stay for just a few months to receive rehabilitative care after incidents such as strokes or heart attacks. About a quarter of people in nursing homes stay for less than three months, according to, a trade association website.

Assisted Living Offers More Privacy

While some assisted living communities have shared apartments, most provide a private living. This can be a great choice for adults who are still independent but may need assistance with their daily routines.

Nursing homes often feature shared bedrooms, and their atmosphere might seem more like a hospital than a home. That’s not a bad thing – for those who need frequent medical care, it’s good to have the extra safety net of constant supervision.

Assisted living homes are meant for fairly independent adults, so they tend to offer more community activities. Popular activities may include yoga classes, singles nights, movie nights, meals in the dining room, and shopping trips.

Costs and Payment Options

Caring for aging adults can be expensive, so you may be wondering about costs and payment options.

Assisted living facilities are “private pay.” Medicare and Medicaid generally do not cover the costs, which can range between $2,500 and $6,700 per month, depending on what state you live in.

Medicare or Medicaid may cover the cost of nursing homes if patients meet the requirements. For those who don’t, private pay is accepted. Private pay may offer perks such as upgraded rooms or more leisure activities.

According to the 2016 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the national average for nursing home care is about $6,800 a month for a semi-private room and about $7,700 for a private room.

Which Is Best: Nursing Home or Assisted Living?

For adults who are still independent – but who may need some help with meals, cleaning and self-care – assisted living can be an attractive option. It allows seniors to leave the basics up to staff while they enjoy living.

Nursing homes are the clear choice for seniors who need more care. Like assisted living facilities, nursing homes offer a sense of community, but their focus is more on medical care, which can be a real blessing for those who need frequent medical attention.

More in this series:

Assisted Living vs. Independent Living

Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

Assisted Living vs. Home Care

Assisted Living Guide

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