The Difference Between Nursing Home and Assisted Living

Elderly person watching the sunrise at Heidi's Haven Assisted Living Facility

Did you know there are currently 800,000 Americans residing in assisted living, with the majority aged 85 or older?

Moving an aging loved one into a facility isn’t an easy decision. With so many different types of senior housing available and levels of services provided, it can be challenging to know which one to choose.

Before you decide, let’s help you understand the difference between a nursing home and assisted living.

Find out everything you need to know here.

What Is Assisted Living?

Assisted living communities offer older adults personalized care in a residential setting. This is an excellent option when your loved one is no longer capable of living alone but wants to continue to enjoy a social and active lifestyle. Assisted living communities range from as few as six residents to as many as 120 or more.

Smaller assisted living facilities offer a more intimate experience and a superior quality of life. With fewer residents, you may have more flexibility in food options and care. You will also develop stronger relationships with the staff and enjoy life in a place that feels more like home.

The majority of residents in an assisted living facility are 55 and over and require long-term assistance with daily living tasks.

Assisted living facilities offer a wide range of activities to ensure residents live fulfilling and enjoyable lives. Contrary to belief, assisted living facilities are not hospitals. However, they can provide basic medical services by on-site licensed nursing staff.

Assisted living facilities often run similarly to retirement communities with additional healthcare support. In assisted living, many residents live in their units which include a private bathroom and a small living area. Some are even equipped with a small kitchenette.

Some communities also offer luxury-style condos, private rooms, shared rooms, and memory care rooms. The latter is geared toward those living with memory issues, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. While different facilities offer different service levels, most facilities include common spaces for dining and recreation.

What Services Do Assisted Living Communities Provide?

Assisted living communities offer various services to support residents’ physical and mental well-being. Services at a typical assisted living facility include:

  • Restaurant-style dining
  • Transportation and outings
  • Daily housekeeping
  • Daily personal laundry service
  • Nutritional home-cooked meals
  • 24-hour staffing
  • Assistance with daily living
  • Medication management
  • Personal hygiene and grooming
  • Incontinence management
  • Social activities
  • Monitoring of safety and wellness
  • In-home beautification service
  • Happy hour
  • Daily newspaper
  • Respite care
  • Free medication delivery
  • End-of-life hospice care

As you can see, assisted living communities focus less on nursing and health care and more on supporting their residents’ health and safety in an autonomous environment.

Who Benefits From Assisted Living?

Deciding to send yourself or your loved one into assisted living isn’t easy. However, it’s a decision that will benefit you in the long run.

For some, assisted living is about downsizing. For others, it’s about maintaining independence while receiving help with daily life. Assisted living may benefit yourself, or your aging loved one if you/they fit the following descriptions:

  • Suffer from chronic health problems
  • Increasingly aggressive
  • Frequent mobility issues resulting in falls
  • Forget to take medicine
  • Feel isolated and lonely
  • Have poor eating habits
  • Have poor hygiene
  • Impacted mental awareness
  • Caregiver stress

Family members providing care for their aging loved ones are likely to feel overwhelmed, irritable, and depressed. When it all becomes too much, there is no shame in admitting you need help. That’s what assisted living communities are here for.

They provide support for your loved one, but they also let you spend less time stressed and more time enjoying the precious final years with your loved one.

How Much Do Assisted Living Communities Cost?

Assisted living facilities’ costs vary depending on size, location, and services. Larger rooms and specific services will also affect the price. For example, residential memory care facilities are likely to cost more because they offer specialized recreational programs designed to help delay the onset of dementia and improve patients’ quality of life.

Another important thing to remember is that the price isn’t comparable to rent or a house mortgage. Assisted living facilities often include utilities, common area maintenance, repairs, landscaping, and food in the price. What’s more, the cost is likely to fluctuate depending on the resident’s needs.

In 2021, the monthly median cost of assisted living was approximately $4,500 for a private, one-bedroom unit. While it might seem expensive, it’s important to consider the benefits of having daily care and the inclusion of transportation into one single monthly fee. Plus, it provides family members with peace of mind knowing their loved one is well-taken care of.

Heidi’s Haven offers financial options, including veterans aid, Medicaid, long-term care insurance policies, and life insurance.

What Is a Nursing Home?

A nursing home is a facility focusing on the medical care of elderly or disabled people who don’t need to be in hospital but can no longer be cared for at home. Nursing homes are also often referred to as “skilled nursing facilities” and provide a wide range of health and personal care services.

Nursing home care is typically the highest level of medical care outside of a hospital facility. Like assisted living facilities, nursing homes are long-term residences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 1.3 million residents in 15,600 nursing homes across the country.

Length of stay varies significantly in nursing homes. Some residents stay for only a short time for treatment, such as physical therapy after illness or injury, before returning home. Others move into nursing homes for end-of-life care.

Most nursing homes provide beds, mattresses, linen, and chairs. However, you or your loved one are more than welcome to decorate the room to make it feel more homely.

Unlike assisted living, nursing homes typically do not have self-contained units. Instead, people generally have private or shared rooms with en-suite bathrooms. They will also have a common shared area for residents to enjoy meals and activities.

Due to the nature of the facility, nursing homes provide round-the-clock health care from licensed nurses and specialized RNs. Besides health care, nursing homes may also provide physical therapy, dietary advice, and daily care.

What Services Do Nursing Homes Provide?

Nursing homes provide various services to support residents’ physical and mental well-being. Services at a typical nursing home include:

  • Emotional support
  • Hygiene and oral care
  • Monitoring fluid intake and output
  • Provision of meals
  • Nursing services
  • Mobility goods
  • Therapy services
  • Toileting and incontinence management
  • Health management
  • Laundry services
  • Social activities
  • Emergency assistance
  • Exercise therapy
  • Music therapy

Along with the physical benefits of exercise therapy, some nursing homes also provide music therapy. Music therapy is beneficial for people with a wide range of health concerns, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. Music therapy aims to reduce anxiety and confusion and awaken brain parts that are not yet impacted by dementia.

Nursing homes can also provide social work services, respite care, hospice care, and end-of-life care. Overall, the general goal of nursing homes is to maximize resident autonomy, function, dignity, and comfort outside of a hospital.

Who Benefits From Nursing Homes?

Nursing homes provide an added level of care for seniors who need help and can no longer live at home. Deciding to send yourself or your loved one to a nursing home is a difficult, albeit important, decision. Once you/they cannot live at home without 24/7 care, a nursing home might be the best decision.

Nursing homes may benefit yourself, or your aging loved one if you/they fit the following descriptions:

  • Decreased mobility
  • Suffering from a chronic health condition
  • Increased falls or injuries
  • Slip in personal hygiene standards
  • Not eating properly
  • Issues with incontinence
  • Increased confusion
  • An unkempt home
  • Decreased interest in social activities
  • Suffered a significant health event
  • Can no longer maintain dental health
  • Wheelchair or bedbound

Once you or your loved one requires access to 24-hour skilled medical care, it may be time to go into a nursing home. Unless your caregiver or family member is specialized in medical care, it is unlikely your loved one will receive the medical attention they deserve outside of a nursing home.

How Much Do Nursing Homes Cost?

Like assisted living facilities, the cost of a nursing home varies depending on size, location, and services offered. Because nursing homes offer so much care, the cost of living in a nursing home will be more expensive.

As of 2021, the median monthly cost of a private room is approximately $9,034. At the same time, a shared room may cost you around $7,756 per month. Short-term stays can be covered by Medicare, while long-term stays may be eligible for Medicaid, federal/state insurance programs, and veterans aid.

Again, this may seem expensive, but you have to consider what is included in the monthly fee. Most nursing home facility fees cover day-to-day living costs such as meals, heating, and cleaning. The peace of mind that your loved one is well-cared for alone might be worth the price.

What Is the Difference Between a Nursing Home and Assisted Living Communities

The major difference between assisted living and nursing homes is the level of medical services required. Nursing homes provide medical attention in a clinical setting, while assisted living provides personal care in a comfortable, home-like environment.

Other differences between the two facilities include the following.

Living Space

In an assisted living facility, residents often live in private or shared units with bedroom, living, and dining room spaces. Residents often have a private or shared room with an ensuite in a nursing home. However, they enjoy meals in a common area if they choose to.

Assistance With Daily Activities

Assisted living facilities assist with basic day-to-day activities such as getting dressed and bathing. Nursing homes provide a higher level of care, such as helping residents use the bathroom, eat meals, and maintain good oral hygiene.

Recreational Activities

Nursing homes offer recreational activities, but they may be limited to physical exercise, music therapy, and stimulating board games, depending on the resident’s condition. Assisted living facilities provide various activities, including meditation, yoga, gardening, swimming, Zumba, and crafting.


Residents in assisted living can cook their meals or take meals from the communal dining room. In a nursing home, meals are prepared for residents to enjoy. Staff is often on-hand to assist individuals who can no longer eat independently.


The cost of a nursing home is almost double that of an assisted living home. However, the medical services provided are much higher in nursing homes and reflect the higher cost.

How to Choose the Right Assisted Living or Nursing Home Facility

Have you decided to send yourself or your loved one to an assisted living or nursing home facility? If so, it’s time to figure out which facility will suit you and your needs.

When evaluating choices, compare staff friendliness and experience, amenities, and overall vibe. Be prepared to ask questions about cost, care services, and general lifestyle to help facilitate the process.

Below are a few factors to consider to help you find a community that fits you or your loved one’s needs:

  • Location
  • Size
  • Services
  • Infection/control prevention
  • Transitions to next-level care
  • Cost
  • Culture
  • Unforeseen events

It’s important to schedule a time to visit a facility in-person. This way, you can determine whether this is the best option. Make a note of the cleanliness, comfort, floor plan, room sizes, safety features, well-marked exits, and clear security and fire safety systems.

Transitioning to Heidi’s Haven

Now that you know the difference between a nursing home and assisted living, it’s time to decide which one is right for you or your loved one.

Heidi’s Haven provides small residential assisted living homes in Lake County, Florida. Our facilities accommodate up to six residents, and we offer a wide range of services to suit your needs. Our rooms are spacious and modern and provide the highest quality of care.

Whether you’re looking to downsize, need more personal care services, or feel isolated or lonely, Heidi’s Haven can cater to you.

Let’s make your transition into assisted living as comfortable as possible. Contact us today to find out more.

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