When looking for care for your senior loved one, two of the terms you will see used most often are nursing home and assisted living. Although these terms may seem the same at first glance, they are actually quite different. While they are both great options for senior care, they provide very different forms of care and assistance throughout the day. Here is a detailed side by side comparison of everything you need to know about nursing homes and assisted living, so you can make the best care decision for your loved one.
In general, the major difference between a nursing home and assisted living is that a nursing home provides comprehensive medical care and 24/7 support, while assisted living does not provide as much medical care, but instead focuses on helping seniors with daily tasks. Nursing homes are typically intended for seniors who have serious physical or mental health conditions and need daily monitoring from a medical staff. Assisted living is ideal for seniors who want to retain some independence, but need help with certain tasks throughout the day.
1. Assisted Living vs Nursing Home: Services Offered
Assisted living facilities and nursing homes do share some of the same services, but there are major differences in what they offer. An assisted living facility will typically offer prepared meals, laundry services, and cleaning services. This helps seniors keep their space clean, and ensures that they are getting the nutrients they need. Assisted living facilities also typically offer assistance with grooming, dressing, walking, and other personal needs. However, residents can opt not to use these services if they can do these activities independently. Many assisted living facilities also offer transportation to help residents visit their families, run errands, or attend doctor’s appointments. Although assisted living facilities don’t typically have medical professionals on staff, they can work closely with a senior’s doctor to help them follow an appropriate care plan. They can also help seniors stay proactively healthy by helping them take medication, exercise, and drink enough water, for example.
Nursing homes (sometimes referred to retirement homes for seniors) typically offer the same services that assisted living homes do, but they offer medical care as well. Nursing homes have trained nurses and doctors on staff 24 hours per day to help with medical care. They can provide regular testing and monitoring, treatment of physical and mental healthcare symptoms, and help sleeping, eating, and taking medication. Nursing homes may also have a variety of other medical services on site, such as a pharmacist, physical therapist, or mental health provider. They also have security and safety measures in place to ensure that residents stay safe. This is particularly important for seniors with dementia, as one of the symptoms of dementia is nighttime wandering.
2. Nursing Home vs. Assisted Living: Types of Facilities
The facilities of a nursing home and assisted living center are also quite different from each other. There are many different types of assisted living homes. Large assisted living homes look similar to retirement communities in that they usually have rooms or full apartments for their residents. There’s then a common dining hall as well as living and recreational areas. Many large assisted living centers have outdoor recreational areas as well. These larger assisted living facilities provide seniors with more privacy when they need it. Caregivers will come by during the day as scheduled, and there is always assistance close by should the resident need it.
There are also small, private assisted living facilities, often referred to as board and care facilities. These facilities are located in small residential units, usually with less than 10 residents. The caregivers live on site, and seniors either have their own bedroom or share with one other person. These facilities also have rooms you would find in a traditional home, such as a kitchen, living room, and dining room, but usually with modifications for seniors with mobility issues. Although they don’t provide as much privacy as a larger assisted living facility, these units, which are also referred to adult foster care homes in some states, as well as personal care homes in others, provide a real feeling of living at home. Each resident gets as much independence as they need, while still having a personalized care plan available to them if they need it. These houses are usually conveniently located in residential areas, and are designed to be cozy and comfortable. This is in contrast to larger assisted living facilities, which sometimes can feel a bit cold or impersonal.
Nursing home facilities are similar to larger assisted living facilities in that they have common dining and living spaces, but typically each resident has just a room instead of a full apartment unit. These rooms do provide some privacy, but because of patient’s medical needs, they are a bit more open so that doctors and nurses can monitor them as needed. Despite this, nursing homes allow their residents to personalize their spaces and make them as comfortable as possible for residents.
3. Assisted Living Versus Nursing Home: Socialization and Activities
Assisted living homes offer a variety of activities and social opportunities for their residents to help keep them occupied in retirement. Staying social is great for both physical and mental health, so residents are usually encouraged to participate in at least one of the many activities that are available. There are many regular clubs and activities that happen on site, focusing on specific hobbies, sports, or interests, and assisted living homes may take their residents off-site to enjoy appropriate community events. Additionally, they may bring in movies and live performances for their residents. Family and friends can visit as desired, depending on the individual senior’s health and ability level. Some facilities allow more independence, so seniors can leave to visit others or have others visit them very easily. Others have stricter security policies that require advance notice or planning. This is usually dependent on what the senior needs help with or feels comfortable with. In assisted living, there is a focus on the senior making their own decisions when they are able to.
In nursing homes, every effort is made to keep seniors occupied and comfortable, but there is less freedom and fewer choices when it comes to daily activities. This is for the safety of the residents there. However, there are still plenty of things to do that are available there to keep residents entertained. Usually if a senior has a hobby that they still enjoy from earlier in life, staff will make an effort to help them continue to enjoy it. There are some opportunities for socialization, but these are more limited than at an assisted living facility to prevent seniors from getting overwhelmed. Seniors can have family and friends come visit them as approved by the facility staff. They can also leave to visit family if they are able, but this has to be approved by the medical staff.
4. Benefits and Downsides of Assisted Living as Compared to Nursing Homes
There are many benefits to staying in an assisted living facility for seniors. The biggest benefit is that it offers flexible care options that can be personalized for your unique needs. Seniors are presented with a wide variety of amenities, and work with their caregivers to determine what they need help with throughout the day. Being able to maintain some privacy and independence helps seniors live as full a life as possible and enjoy their favorite activities until later in life, but there’s a very helpful sense of security in knowing that help is available when you need it.
Another benefit of staying in an assisted living facility is that you are in a healthy environment that can actually prevent your conditions from getting worse in many cases. Seniors in an assisted living facility receive healthy food and live in a clean environment. They also receive reminders to take medication regularly and get help exercising and treating chronic pain when necessary. There are opportunities to socialize with others and try new activities, which is very beneficial for mental health. By taking these preventative measures, seniors can confidently live longer, happier lives.
There are a few downsides to assisted living. The biggest downside is that there isn’t medical care on site. This can be inconvenient for seniors struggling with chronic conditions. Many seniors experience a middle ground during their elderly years where they experience chronic physical or mental symptoms and need some assistance, but aren’t quite ready for full-time nursing home care yet. This means that while they are in assisted living, they will still have to travel offsite to see their doctor, which can be stressful.
The other downside to assisted living is that residents are living away from their families. This can be difficult if they lived with their families before or spent lots of time with them. Because seniors in an assisted living home have more independence and are healthier than seniors in a nursing home, they are more likely to be aware of this, and it can make the adjustment process difficult. To make this transition easier, be sure to take time to visit your loved one in their assisted living home during the moving process.
5. Benefits and Downsides of a Nursing Home When Compared to Assisted Living
For seniors who are struggling with chronic health conditions, a nursing home is the best way to get 24/7 care. The biggest benefit of nursing homes is that medical staff are available to help manage problems whenever they occur, which prevents medical conditions from getting worse and helps seniors live longer. This means that seniors and their families won’t have to worry about finding care in an emergency, because trained medical staff will be ready to help and solve the problem. Seniors also have access in a nursing home to extensive medical resources, which can reduce pain and keep mental functioning as high as possible.
The safe and secure environment of a nursing home is also very advantageous for seniors with disabilities. Nursing homes near you will typically be very well-lit, and they have accessible showers and elevators for seniors using mobility devices. While many assisted living homes also have these features, there is an extra focus on them in nursing homes, where a higher percentage of the population needs disability assistance. This can give you the peace of mind you need when transitioning into a nursing home, or if you have a loved one that is making this big move.
The biggest downside of living in a nursing home is that there isn’t as much privacy or independence as you would have in an assisted living home nearby, or if you were living on your own. This can be frustrating for seniors at times, particularly if they are feeling homesick or craving somewhere cozier and more intimate. When choosing a nursing home, look for somewhere that makes an effort to create a comfortable, cozy atmosphere. This will mitigate some of this problem and help your senior feel more comfortable. Another downside to living in a nursing home is that it isn’t as social as living in an assisted living facility. It’s important for seniors to have social interaction throughout the day for their mental health and happiness. Taking time to visit your loved one while they are in a nursing home can help them feel better and more comfortable.
6. Assisted Living and Nursing Homes: Cost
The costs of both facilities vary widely depending on what type of services they offer, where they are located, and how large they are. In general, nursing home services are usually more expensive, because they offer medical care in addition to assistance. The average cost of a nursing home is around $6,500 per month. However, nursing homes are often covered under Medicaid or other insurance plans, so most of those costs won’t come out of your pocket. In general, you can expect to spend between $3,000 and $5,000 per month for an assisted living home, with some of those costs potentially covered by Medicaid or long-term care insurance. Luxury assisted living facilities tend to be very expensive, and may even cost more than nursing homes. Smaller assisted living homes are usually less expensive, and homes located in more affordable areas typically have lower costs as well.
When making the decision of whether you should use a nursing home or an assisted living facility to care for your loved one, the biggest question is whether your senior needs personalized assistance or whether they need focused healthcare and safety. If you aren’t sure exactly which option to go for, ask your seniors’ doctor what makes the most sense to them depending on their current health status.