Assisted Living vs. Nursing Home

Nursing homes

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Difference Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

Getting the right care for your aging loved one is a big decision. With so many options available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Many people struggle to decide between assisted living and a nursing home for their senior relatives.

Below is a guide to help you compare assisted living and nursing home care. You’ll learn the pros and cons of each to help you decide which option is best for your loved one.

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted living is senior housing that allows senior adults to maintain a fairly independent and active lifestyle. This long-term housing option provides assistance with daily living needs.

Seniors in assisted living won’t need to worry about lawn care or housekeeping. Additional services can help them with bathing, dressing, and cookie. Because assistance is available on a regular basis, many senior adults receive medication management to help them manage healthcare concerns.

However, assisted living is still a fairly independent living option. Residents should be able to do certain tasks themselves, like moving from their bed to a wheelchair without assistance. Seniors in assisted living may receive help cooking, but they must be able to feed themselves without assistance.

Assisted living provides a residential feel instead of a clinical one. It provides a strong social structure and safety net to help senior adults as they age.

Pros of Assisted Living

There are many pros of assisted living:

  • Assistance available for personal care such as hygiene and diet
  • Medication management available
  • Social and recreational activities
  • Interest-based activities like clubs
  • Transportation for outings to stores, theaters, and museums
  • Larger apartments are available to allow aging couples to continue living together
  • Wheelchair and walker-accessible spaces
  • Help with lawn care, housekeeping, laundry, and meals
  • Privacy and independence from apartments with private baths and kitchenettes
  • Availability of memory care units for early dementia patients who do not need around-the-clock care
  • Less expensive than nursing home care

Cons of Assisted Living

Assisted living does not have many drawbacks. However, the following may make it a bad fit for your senior adult:

  • Costs primarily paid out-of-pocket, although some VA benefits and Medicaid may help with costs in some states
  • No support for seniors who need around-the-clock care

Additional Considerations for Assisted Living

Assisted living is perfect for seniors who need a little extra help but aren’t ready for around-the-clock care. It’s a great option for seniors who want independence and built-in social structures.

Your senior adult won’t need to take care of lawn care, housekeeping, laundry or cooking. Since the private apartments often have a kitchenette, your senior can still enjoy preparing some meals if that is their preference.

Overall, assisted living is less expensive than nursing home care. It typically costs between $4000 and $5200 a month for assisted living.

What is a Nursing Home?

Nursing home care is for seniors who need full-time monitoring and medical assistance. These homes provide medical care for seniors who need regular monitoring but who do not yet need hospitalization.

Seniors in nursing homes may be bedridden or able to move independently in a wheelchair. However, they are seniors who need more monitoring than assisted living provides.

To move your loved one into a nursing home, you often need a doctor’s recommendation and pre-approval. Skilled nursing staff provide medical care for chronic conditions. Many nursing homes also provide in-house therapies as needed.

Pros of Nursing Homes

There are many pros of nursing homes:

  • Around-the-clock care ensures the welfare of your loved one
  • Medical attention and medication monitoring helps manage health conditions
  • Assistance with all daily living needs
  • Skilled nursing provides limited medical treatments, reducing the need for hospital visits
  • Some recreational activities provided
  • Option for private or shared rooms
  • Care for advanced dementia patients in memory care wings
  • Speech, physical, occupational, respiratory, and cognitive therapies often included in care plan
  • Some homes provide dental services
  • Nutritious meals that meet special dietary needs (such as liquid diets)
  • Added safety features to ensure your loved one’s well-being

Cons of Nursing Homes

Despite the benefits of nursing home care, there are a couple of drawbacks:

  • Often have smaller outdoor and recreational areas
  • More expensive than assisted living, especially if your loved one has a private room

Additional Considerations for Nursing Homes

A nursing home might be the right fit for your loved one if they lack mobility and need around-the-clock care. If your loved one needs assistance eating, nursing home care may be your primary option.

Nursing homes are for senior adults who need more help than assisted living but who do not yet need long-term hospitalization. They often need consistent and regular medical care, such as medication management.

Seniors adults can be supported medically and socially in a nursing home setting. Although assisted living often provides more social activities, nursing homes have regular activities for seniors in their care.

If your loved one has advanced dementia, nursing homes often have memory care units to provide additional support. You can rest assured that your loved ones will receive the regular care needed to keep them safe and healthy.

However, nursing homes are more expensive than assisted living. The average cost of a nursing home starts at around $7500 a month. If your loved one has a private room, you may pay $9000 or more each month. Medicaid can help offset some of these costs.

Choosing the Right Facility

Whether you choose assisted living or nursing home care for your loved one, you need to make sure to choose the right facility. The right facility will provide the necessary care in a warm and caring environment.

With so many assisted living and nursing home options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Below are six tips to help you choose the right facility for your loved one.

  1. Make a list of services your loved one will need. Take time to talk to your loved ones and their doctors to determine what services they need. If their needs fit assisted living better than nursing home care, look for an assisted living community that fits their needs. If nursing home care is needed, make sure to list everything your loved one will need to thrive. Although nursing home care often provides more medical support, it’s important to ensure that all your loved ones’ needs will be met by their nursing home. With a list of needs in hand, you’re ready to start looking at specific assisted living and nursing facilities in your area.
  2. Ask friends and family for recommendations. Ask friends and family about what facilities house their loved ones. This can give you unique insight into what care is like at certain facilities. Although reading reviews is helpful, you can get unfiltered insight into the living situations by talking to friends and family familiar with the homes in your area. These experiences can help you steer clear of bad facilities that don’t provide quality care.
  3. Research options online. Once you have a shortlist of options, begin digging deep into online resources to get an idea of what it’s like to live in one of those communities. You should find out the cost, availability, and number of residents. Take note of what services and social activities are available. Read reviews about each option on Google, Facebook, and any other site that shares reviews. Don’t only look at the overall reviews, but take special note of recent reviews. Are certain problems mentioned more in recent reviews? Pay careful attention to bad reviews, especially when they’re recent.
  4. Visit the facility. No amount of online research can replace the need for an in-person visit. Schedule a tour at each facility. If possible, bring your loved one with you to see what their opinion is, since they’re the one who has to live there! Take note of how happy the residents seem and how warm the staff is. Even if a facility looks great on paper, the residents and staff play a huge role in your loved one’s care. Look around at safety features, general condition of the facilities, and other visual cues that the facility is maintained. After your scheduled visit, find a time to stop by when no one is expecting you. This can give you an unfiltered look at what life would be like for your loved one.
  5. Talk to the staff. Ask lots of questions. Find out how they take care of their residents, what social activities are available, and what medical care is provided. Many assisted living and nursing home facilities have people on staff to oversee each part of your loved one’s care. Take time to talk to nurses, physical therapists, diet coordinators, social activity planners, and chaplains. Conversations with all these people can help you get a feel for how caring the environment will be for your loved one.
  6. Read contracts carefully. Before you sign anything, make sure to read the contracts carefully. If there is anything in the contract you don’t understand, make sure to ask questions before signing.


Whether you choose assisted living or a nursing home for your loved one depends largely on the level of care they need. If your loved one is still fairly independent, an assisted living facility might be the right fit for their long-term care. However, if your loved one needs full-time care, it may be time to consider a nursing home.

Once you’ve decided between assisted living and a nursing home, take the time to research options in your area. Talk to friends, read reviews, and visit facilities to find the right place for your loved one.

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