Nursing Home vs. Assisted Living

senior living homesLearn the difference between these two common types of senior living homes.

When your independent loved one becomes frail or confused and you start to grow concerned about his safety and well-being, the decision to look into senior living homes can be difficult but rewarding. On one hand, you know he’ll receive better daily care and have more social opportunity, but on the other, you don’t want to make him feel marginalized or abandoned. Thankfully, two common types of senior living homes offer different levels of care in different settings so you can choose the one with the least amount of restriction that meets your loved one’s needs.

Two Types of Senior Living Homes

Since the advent of the assisted living home in the early 1990s, a big decision on the forefront of senior citizen’s minds has been, "nursing home vs. assisted living: which one is right for me?" The information below should help you differentiate between the two so you can make an educated decision in your loved one’s best interest.

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes are often looked down upon in mainstream U.S. circles because of the negativity we associate with aging and death. Movies like Cocoon, Say Anything and The Notebook shed a somewhat more positive light on these senior living homes, but still nursing homes are often viewed as smelly, institutional-looking buildings with terrible food and uncaring staff. Thankfully, the truth of nursing homes is not as bad as their reputation.

Nursing homes provide their residents with round-the-clock nurse (LPN) assistance, in-depth custodial (personal) assistance, physician oversight, meals, medication dispersal, social activities and other housekeeping services. Higher-end nursing homes provide personalized gourmet meals, on-sight salons and large private quarters. Of course, not all skilled nursing senior living homes provide a posh atmosphere. But if your loved one prefers some social interaction and needs a considerable amount of help with activities of daily living, as well as medical oversight, you can certainly find a nursing home that meets her physical needs and fits her personal style.

Assisted Living

Assisted living facilities (ALFs) are senior living homes that came about partly in response to the public’s dislike of the nursing home model. Created to be more homelike and less institutional, they offer many of the same services without hospital rooms and nurse’s stations. Their more relaxed and personal atmosphere necessitates a less medical focus, so those with debilitating diseases or serious cognitive impairment will often not find appropriate care in an assisted living facility.

ALFs are ideal for seniors who need help with a few activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing, eating and bathing, but don’t require serious or regular medical attention. Trained caregivers provide custodial care round-the-clock, carrying a median aide to resident ratio ranging from 1:8 to 1:22, depending on the time of day.* Assisted senior living homes come in many forms, including larger, apartment-style buildings, as well as small, family-run homes. For more information, see our article on the different types of Assisted Living Facilities .

Nursing Home vs. Assisted Living: Which is Right for You?

If you need help understanding terms like "activities of daily living," skip over to our comprehensive senior living glossary. Hopefully, this discussion helped you start to determine which level of care is most appropriate for your loved one at this time. If you have further questions, or if you prefer to speak with an advisor personally, just call the toll-free number at the top of this page to be connected with an elder care advisor near you, free of charge. We are here to help you through the process by matching you with senior living homes that will meet your loved one’s needs while fostering her personal satisfaction.

*U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000