Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes: Is Assisted Living the Same as A Nursing Home?

March 23, 2016

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

As people age, there may come a point when people require more assistance with everyday tasks and activities. This can lead to the decision to move one of several long-term care facilities, such as an assisted living facility or a nursing home. While these two options may sound similar, they’re actually two very different types of senior living facilities, with significant differences between them. 

In this blog, follow along as we explore what those differences are so that you can understand which option may be the best fit for you or your loved one. 

Assisted Living vs Nursing Homes: What’s the Difference?

As you may or may not know, assisted living facilities and nursing homes essentially serve the same function: to provide a home for senior citizens. 

They both provide care and assistance for senior citizens, but their similarities end there. That’s because whereas nursing homes help those who need active medical supervision at all times during the day, assisted living is vastly different. Instead of tending to seniors at all times, 24/7, assisted living is designed to help senior citizens maintain independent lives, while still receiving the care and assistance they may need. 

In general, assisted living is for people who might need help with daily tasks, whereas nursing homes are better suited for those who need a more consistent level of care. While this might seem like a small difference, it’s actually quite a large one, given that there are other differences across a wide range of factors that draw on the differences that this variance creates. 

Read more about these differences so that you can ensure you or your loved one receives the right level of care for your or their needs.

Extracurricular Activities

When comparing the extracurricular activities offered by assisted living and nursing homes, it’s important to consider that assisted living offers a much broader range of activities and programs. Assisted living facilities typically offer activities like yoga, art classes, cooking classes, and even group outings, whereas nursing homes tend to offer more basic activities, such as board games, bingo, and exercise classes. Moreover, social activities in assisted living tend to be created with residents’ enjoyment in mind, whereas any interactions in nursing homes are usually highly regimented. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that assisted living communities allow residents to easily come and go as they please. Whereas with nursing homes, residents need to be signed out by a family member or friend before leaving the facility. 

Health Care

Another important consideration when it comes to choosing assisted living vs a nursing home is the level of care provided. 

As nursing homes are designed for those who need near-constant medical monitoring, they usually provide extensive medical services, such as physical therapy and skilled nursing, as well as 24-hour medical care. For instance, if your loved one cannot use the bathroom on their own, a nursing home attendant will assist them.

Assisted living facilities, in contrast, generally provide basic medical care—such as medical monitoring and amenities—and may help residents with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and medication management if needed. That said, residents are expected to be more independent and do most activities, such as going to the bathroom, on their own. 

Living Spaces

Assisted living facilities typically provide private living spaces, such as studio or one-bedroom senior apartments, or shared bedrooms for couples, which offer more freedom and independence. Residents are often encouraged to personalize their rooms with their belongings—such as photos, possessions, or furniture—and are free to decorate their home however they choose. Depending on the location, some assisted living communities may even provide entire cottages for residents and their loved ones.

Nursing homes, conversely, tend to offer semi-private or shared living spaces—often with more rules and regulations. Decoration is allowed, but seniors may have to clear personal items with the request of home staff.

Personal Care

Nursing homes provide a much higher level of personal care than nursing homes, as they often offer services such as housekeeping and laundry, as well as assistance with eating, dressing, and bathing. 

Assisted living, on the other hand, independent option when dealing with activities of daily living such as bathing, eating, cooking, changing clothes, using the bathroom, and more. This approach ensures that each resident receives the level of care they need without it being overbearing. 

Additionally, assisted living may engage residents in activities and take them to local events or to run errands. 


Assisted living facilities tend to provide more privacy than nursing homes, and are often designed with privacy in mind. Rooms are made so that seniors can get around with minimal aid and less oversight, and their living space remains private unless otherwise noted. 

Residents in nursing homes, on the other hand, are closely watched over by staff in shared or private bedroom spaces. There is also a higher chance of sharing a room with another person in a nursing home, which can be ideal for loved ones who need special medical supervision. Nursing homes also tend to be more open and have more staff, so residents may feel that their privacy is more compromised.


While the cost of assisted living and nursing homes will vary depending on the services offered and the area in which they are located, assisted living facilities tend to be more expensive than nursing homes, as they offer more services and amenities.

That being said, assisted living can also be covered by long-term insurance, and you can often meet with the facility advisor to make it more affordable. Since nursing homes are technically considered ‘health centers,’ they’re often covered by many types of health insurance and services that cover nursing homes.

If you are interested in calculating the possible cost of a long-term care residency, such as a nursing home or assisted living facility, use the long-term care cost calculator from AARP

Not sure how to pay for assisted living? Check out our blog How to Pay for Assisted Living for our best advice.

Why The Difference Matters

While it’s true that both assisted living and nursing homes have their merit, it’s incredibly important that you consider their differences before signing a contract for either one. Without doing your research and considering your options, you could put yourself or a loved one in a difficult position without even knowing it.

If you’re not sure whether someone would be better suited for assisted living vs a nursing home, contact Heritage Creek today. One of our resident associates would be happy to discuss your options with you!

Interested in Assisted Living in San Antonio?

Are you looking for a new home that provides the as-needed you need, while still allowing you to live an independent, active lifestyle? Contact us today to learn more about our San Antonio assisted living community, or to schedule a tour of our facility. We can’t wait to show you our beautiful community and our charming residential living spaces and walk you through all that Heritage Creek Assisted Living has to offer!

Call us at (210) 405-1146 or fill out our form for more information.

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