Assisted Living vs. Nursing Home

March 23, 2016

Nurse checks an elderly woman's blood pressure in an assisted living home.

There is a misconception that nursing homes and assisted living serve the same function. While both provide homes for senior citizens, their purposes are quite different.

Assisted living facilities help senior citizens maintain independent lifestyles with basic aid. Nursing homes help people that need active medical supervision at all times.

Both have their merit, but you need to know the differences before signing a contract for either one. Without the knowledge, you could be hurting your loved one without even knowing it.

Extracurricular Activities

Nursing Home — must be signed out by a close friend or family member before leaving the home. Any interactions are also highly regimented.

Assisted Livingresidents are often free to leave when they please. Also, many social activities are created with residents' enjoyment in mind.

Health Care

Nursing Home — constant medical monitoring. A nursing home's function is to give 24-hour medical care to seniors that need it. While your loved one's social activities may be sparse, medical care is extensive.

For instance, if your loved one cannot use the bathroom on their own, a nursing home attendant will assist them.

Assisted Living — medical monitoring and amenities. Assisted living offers care but there isn't round-the-clock attention. Residents are expected to be more independent and do most activities, such as using the bathroom, by themselves.

Living Space

Nursing Home — sparse, but functional. Decoration is allowed, but seniors may have to clear personal items with the request of home staff.

Assisted Living — offers a greater variety of living space selections, including:

  • Studio apartments
  • 1 BR apartment
  • Shared bedrooms

Depending on the location, there are even entire cottages for your loved ones. Additionally, assisted living may engage residents in activities and take them to local events or run errands.

Personal Care

Nursing Home — frequent attention. From eating to dressing and bathing, nursing homes are made with custodial care in mind. Independence is not expected.

Assisted Living — offer independent options when dealing with activities of daily living such as bathing, eating, cooking, changing clothes, using the bathroom, and more.


Nursing Home — closely watched over by staff in shared or private bedroom spaces. There is a higher chance of sharing a room with another person in a nursing home. This can be ideal for loved ones who need special medical supervision.

Assisted Living — designed with privacy in mind. Rooms are made for seniors who can still get around with minimal aid. Their living space is private unless otherwise noted.


Nursing Home — Since this is a health center, many types of health insurance and services cover nursing homes.

Assisted Living — Long term insurance can cover many assisted living spaces. You may run into some billing issues , but an facility advisor can work with you to make it affordable.

If you are interested in calculating the possible cost of a nursing home residency, visit the assisted living calculator from AARP.

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