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Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes

Searching for senior care for an aging parent can feel overwhelming. It is often emotionally and physically exhausting. A big part of the struggle for families lies in having difficulty understanding their options. One common source of confusion is the difference between an assisted living facility vs. a nursing home.

While these communities have much in common, there are distinct differences between assisted living vs. nursing homes. Let’s talk about both.


6 Similarities Between Nursing Homes and Assisted Living

Here are six ways nursing homes and assisted living communities are alike:

Activities of Daily Living

Residents in both of these types of senior living centers receive assistance with what are known as the activities of daily living (ADL).  This means caregivers are on hand to help with bathing, dressing, grooming and other necessary daily tasks.

Medication Management

One of the most common services for seniors who live in a nursing home or an assisted living community is support with medication. Because more than 50% of adults between the ages of 62 and 85 take five or more medications or supplements each day, the chances for making a mistake are higher. This is especially true for adults who live with some form of memory loss. Mismanaging medication is a leading reason older adults end up in a hospital emergency room.

Supportive Physical Environment

Nursing homes and assisted living communities are both designed to meet the unique needs of seniors. Individual resident rooms have emergency call systems, accessible bathrooms and fire suppression systems. The physical plan of the community itself is built with sturdy handrails in hallways and easy-to-navigate common spaces.

Well-balanced Meals

A surprising number of older adults suffer from poor nutrition. Sometimes it is due to a chronic illness, such as Parkinson’s disease, that makes meal preparation difficult. Other times it is because they lack transportation to get back and forth to the grocery store. Assisted living communities and nursing homes both offer residents nutritious, well-balanced meals.

Transportation Options

Another benefit both types of communities provide is access to transportation. This is especially important for seniors who have given up their car keys. From group outings to scheduled physician appointments, residents typically have transportation services available as needed.

Life Enrichment Programs

Newer research tells us seniors who are lonely are at higher risk for a variety of health conditions ranging from diabetes to high blood pressure, obesity and depression. An advantage of moving to an assisted living community or a nursing home is the opportunity to participate in the wide variety of life enrichment activities and programs that take place every day.

Despite how many things they have in common, there are distinct differences which are important for families to understand. Most notably is the complexity of medical services that are provided.

When Is It Time to Move from Assisted Living to a Nursing Home?

Some people live in an assisted living community for a while and then move to a nursing home when their needs become greater. But it can be hard to know when to make that transition. Consider changing facilities if:


  • Declining health has made regular physical therapy, occupational therapy or respiratory care necessary
  • Your loved one has dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other memory problems beyond normal age-related memory loss
  • The risk to your loved one’s health and safety outweighs their desire for independence

Talking to the assisted living community’s administrators and your loved one’s doctor and visiting nursing homes can help with the decision to move from assisted living to a nursing home.

Assisted Living vs. Skilled Nursing

Cooking, cleaning and helping seniors with activities of daily living takes a unique skill set, including kindness, empathy and patience. But it doesn’t require medical expertise.

Skilled nursing, on the other hand, involves providing medical treatment and must be done by licensed medical professionals. Some seniors need short-term skilled nursing care because of an illness or injury. Others need long-term skilled nursing care because of declining health. Nursing homes are the primary providers of skilled nursing care, so if you are debating what kind of facility would be best for your loved one, a need for skilled nursing makes a nursing home the better choice.

In some Elmcroft communities, current residents who are discharged from the hospital and need intensive short-term medical care, or whose declining health requires more comprehensive long-term medical care, can receive skilled nursing care In the Elmcroft community in which they already live.

Read More Information About Assisted Living

FAQs about Assisted Living

How Much Does Assisted Living Cost?

Dining at Assisted Living Communities

How to Know When a Loved One is Ready for Assisted Living

Transitioning to Assisted Living

Assisted Living vs. Home Care

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