7 Key Differences between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

Assisted Living

When considering long-term care options for older adults, deciding which option is best suited for your loved one can be challenging. The differences between assisted living facilities and nursing homes will help you decide what level of care is suitable for your circumstances.

Medical Services

The goal of nursing homes is to ensure the comfort and safety of older adults who need constant care and attention. In a nursing home, medical care is given round the clock, which includes:

  • Ongoing palliative and long-term preventative care
  • Specialized rehabilitation services
  • Prescription medication administration, including injections
  • Emergency and routine dental services

One of the key features of nursing homes is skilled nursing care. This means that medical professionals are always available to assist its occupants. Some residents live in nursing homes for a shorter rehabilitation period following a hospital stay.

Generally, people living in assisted living facilities are healthy and may only require support with activities of daily living (ADLs). In an assisted living facility, residents are provided different levels of medical attention depending on their individual requirements.

Suppose your family member is seriously ill or has a grave condition. In that case, they may receive specialized care from a licensed health care professional at a nursing facility rather than an assisted living center.

Leisure Activities

Many nursing homes offer cooking classes, art classes, choir, animal therapy, mentally stimulating games, and educational courses for residents to enjoy. Physical therapists supervise exercise activities that focus on helping residents improve mobility, gain strength and prevent falls.

Assisted living communities offer amenities and services that promote important aspects of senior wellness, including social connection, physical health, and intellectual stimulation. Residents enjoy restaurant-style dining, happy hours, and recreational activities based on interest. They go for outings and are provided transportation to theaters, museums, and local stores.


In a nursing home, meals are prepared for the residents according to their health needs. A dietician prepares them, and they are served in a communal dining room or individual rooms as per preference. Usually, residents have personal aides who help them eat their food.

Assisted living communities have suites or larger apartments with kitchenettes where residents can cook their meals. They can take their meals in community dining rooms if they want to. Some assisted living facilities offer charged meal delivery services, and dining rooms may stay open for residents throughout the day.

Community Layout

A significant difference between a nursing home and an assisted living facility is their appearance. While a nursing care center usually looks like an institution because of the type of professional care provided, assisted living usually resembles an upscale apartment community. As seniors of all ages and abilities seek people their age with similar interests, an assisted living community focuses on providing an open and warm environment for people to interact, communicate, and live together.

Living Arrangement

In nursing homes, residents may have an individual room, but they are likely to share a room with another adult in most cases. Many skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes have common spaces where residents can eat and participate in activities together.

In an assisted living facility, people usually live in individual suites or reside in couple suites. Each suite has bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. Some facilities also offer furnished spaces.


According to the American Health Care Association, the cost of nursing home care is almost twice the cost of an assisted living facility. The annual cost of a shared room in a nursing home is around $89,000, whereas an assisted living facility roughly costs around $48,000 a year.

One of the reasons for this difference in cost is the availability of trained medical professionals in nursing homes who provide round-the-clock care and medical services.

Insurance Coverage

Medicare can bear the cost for seniors to pay for skilled nursing care if required for at least three days, but no more than 100 days if the chosen facility is a Medicare-certified skilled nursing facility. If a resident cannot pay for nursing home services, they may be eligible to pay for skilled nursing care with Medicaid.

When it comes to assisted living, Medicare doesn’t offer coverage for long-term care. Some states may offer partial coverage through Medicaid programs, but the amount of coverage and eligibility vary between states.

Payment options vary in each state, but residents in assisted living usually rely on private pay options as most assisted living communities do not accept public pay.

What Should You Choose?

Over the years, senior living choices have increased as the expectations and needs of older adults have changed. The ideal way to decide which care type suits your needs is to talk to people who have experience with both care types and select the option based on the medical needs of your loved one.