Nursing Home vs Assisted Living: Understanding The Differences

Most of us, at some point in our lives, will need long-term care. According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, people 65 and older have a 70 percent chance of needing long-term care services.

But senior living and care communities come in many different shapes and sizes. Choosing between an assisting living and a nursing home community can be tricky if you don’t fully understand the differences.

This article highlights the key differences between assisted living and nursing homes so you can make an informed decision for your loved one or yourself.

What Is Assisted Living?

In short, assisted living offers a more independent lifestyle while nursing homes offer medical assistance to those that need more advanced levels of care.

Assisted living is a great choice for seniors that cannot safely live alone but want to maintain an active lifestyle. They can stay active and independent while benefiting from support with daily activities like dressing, bathing, cleaning, or using the toilet.

Seniors in assisted living also benefit from more nutritious meals, personalized care, and socialization in a safe, comfortable environment.

What Is a Nursing Home?

A nursing home, also called a skilled nursing facility, provides the highest level of senior care outside of a hospital. Oftentimes, seniors move to a nursing home to recover after a hospital stay.

Skilled nursing facilities have 24-hour care for seniors with more complex medical issues, including those who may need more hands-on assistance and constant medical monitoring.

For example, some residents who need skilled nursing care may rely on tube feeding or may be confined to bed. Licensed physicians supervise the care and a nurse is available around the clock.

Nursing homes may also have the same medical equipment found in hospitals such as adjustable electric beds and X-ray machines.


Similarities and Differences Between a Nursing Home and Assisted Living Community

There are some similarities along with differences between the two types of senior care communities. Both types of facilities offer personal care for Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) such as dressing and bathing as well as assistance with meals, housekeeping and laundry. They both focus on keeping their residents happy and healthy.

In addition, both assisted living and skilled nursing facilities offer a safe environment for seniors. The architecture and floor plans may differ, but each are designed for senior safety and security.

Both types of facilities also provide some form of medication management. Seniors living alone may forget to take medication or take the wrong dose, so caregiver assistance with medications is vital to a senior’s health and well-being.

In addition to personal aides and caregivers, other medical professionals such as physical therapists are also involved in providing care at both skilled nursing and assisted living communities in the form of supplemental services.

Senior Health Considerations

The unique health considerations of older adults are emphasized in both assisted living and skilled nursing communities.

Nutrition is important for seniors and many older adults struggle to eat properly when living at home alone. Both types of facilities prepare well-balanced meals designed to meet the nutritional needs of older adults.

At communities like Sonata Senior Living, a registered dietician plans and reviews every menu for nutritional value and features options for those with special dietary needs.

Seniors who live alone are also at greater risk for health problems such as depression. Aging and social isolation also increases our risk of developing chronic illnesses and health conditions.

Assisted living underscores the importance of socialization by offering activities that support the emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of older adults.

Differences Between Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing

One of the biggest differences between nursing homes and assisted living is the physical layout. Nursing homes typically look and function more like a hospital or medical facility due to the around-the-clock medical care they are designed to deliver.

Residents of assisted living communities need some assistance, but generally not 24-hour care. In fact, an assisted living facility is more likely to resemble an apartment or residential community. Some rent-based assisted living communities even offer luxury amenities like those found in an upscale resort.

In contrast, nursing homes emphasis medical monitoring according to a plan of care ordered and supervised by a physician. Residents are less likely to have the acuity level needed to engage in social or recreational activities.

Another key difference between the two types of senior living is cost. Rent at a nursing home can be almost twice as expensive as assisted living due to the extra care provided. Many older adults who can remain independent find renting an assisted living apartment more affordable.

What Services Do Assisted Living Communities Provide?

An assisted living community offers services and amenities to encourage all aspects of senior health and wellness. They focus on more than physical health and may offer:

  • Outings to local theaters, museums, and stores
  • Housekeeping, laundry, and apartment maintenance
  • Restaurant-style dining, social activities, and events
  • Wellness services such as fitness classes and nutrition counseling
  • Entertainment and activities such as games, fitness classes, painting, etc.
  • Amenities such as hair salon, art studio, library, and theaters
  • Caregiver assistance with dressing, grooming, medication, and bathing
  • Transportation to and from medical appointments
  • Accommodations ranging from studios to two-bedroom apartments
  • Safety features like emergency alerts, ADA-accessible doorways, and grab bars
  • Access to continuing care such as memory care assisted living, home care and hospice

Some assisted living facilities offer supplemental care such as visiting physicians, therapy, home care and hospice as well as licensed nursing supervision to help with the transition to a higher level of care.

Keep in mind, services and amenities will vary largely by community and location, so it is important to explore all your options.

What Services Do Nursing Homes Provide?

The goal of a nursing home or nursing care center is to provide comfort and safety to older adults that need the most care, often following a health event. In addition to many of the same services provided in assisted living, nursing homes offer more advanced medical care and resources, including:

  • Care by licensed health care professionals, 24-hour nursing and supervision
  • Assistance with prescription medication, including administration of injections and wound care
  • Monitoring of a written plan of care ordered and supervised by a physician
  • Meal options to meet special dietary needs like tube feedings, liquid, and pureed diets
  • Skilled therapy and rehabilitative services such as vocational, speech, occupational, respiratory, cognitive, and physical therapy
  • Access to palliative or end-of-life (hospice) care

Senior care aides at assisted living communities are trained to provide some assistance with personal care, but generally not medically certified to provide advanced levels of care. For this reason, the licensed health care professionals at a nursing home may be better suited for those recovering from an injury or surgery.

Senior Care Licensing and Regulation

Another big difference between nursing homes and assisted living facilities is the regulation and licensing.

Both federal and state laws govern nursing homes. Since they receive funding from Medicare and Medicaid, skilled nursing facilities must follow the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987. This Act states that nursing homes must offer a written plan of care for each resident.

In contrast, assisted living facilities are regulated at the state level. For example, in Florida, assisted living facilities must be licensed by The Agency for Health Care Administration to provide personal care services.

Some communities such as Sonata Senior Living are also licensed to provide limited nursing services, which can be helpful to those who qualify for assisted living, but may need nursing services for a short time.

How to Determine Which One Is Right For You

Determining which senior care facility is right for you or your loved one depends on your health and how much support and care is needed.

For more serious health conditions that require advanced medical care, many doctors will recommend a nursing home. For older adults who are independent, but require some assistance, assisted living may be the best solution.

Choosing a senior care community can be one of the biggest decisions your family will make, so don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor, social worker or friend, and consider scheduling a home visit from Sonata Senior Living. We can help you determine which type of senior living is right for you and your loved one.

In the meantime, if you are wondering if your loved one will qualify for assisted living, take our short quiz.

Schedule a visit to Sonata Senior Living or call today to learn more about our independent living, assisted living and memory care communities throughout Florida.

Expect More At Sonata

Visit a Sonata community and find out why putting service first has allowed us to continually raise the bar in senior living and exceed our residents’ expectations.