What Is the Difference Between an Assisted Living Facility and a Nursing Home?

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Here's the easiest way to think about the differences between these two senior care facilities: assisted living facilities emphasize social support, whereas nursing homes emphasize medical support. Both can help with activities of daily living. 

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What's an assisted living facility?

Assisted living facilities are for people who can't safely live on their own and need some help with "activities of daily living," like doing laundry, getting dressed, or getting in and out of the tub. While the staff at an assisted living facility is always on hand to help in an emergency, residents usually need to go elsewhere to get treatment.

These facilities are an alternative to in-home caregivers and give seniors more socialization options than they might otherwise enjoy when aging in place. Assisted living facilities often coordinate fun activities for their residents, which may include off-site day trips. But when they need time to themselves, each senior enjoys their own studio or apartment.

What's a nursing home?

Nursing homes are for people who need daily care delivered by a nurse or other licensed medical professional, like a physical therapist. Such care might include medication administration, rehab therapy, and wound care. Staff also provide help with activities of daily living, like using the toilet or getting dressed.

Nursing home residents can move back home or to an assisted living facility once they no longer need consistent medical treatment, but some nursing homes specializing in palliative or hospice care do care for their residents indefinitely.

Medical treatment is the number-one priority in a nursing home, but many do have recreational therapists on staff to help stave off boredom. Residents may have a private room and bathroom, but it's also common to have a roommate in a nursing home. 

Cost of assisted living facilities vs. nursing homes

Cost is the other big difference between assisted living facilities and nursing homes. 

According to the 2021 Genworth survey, the average assisted living facility in the US cost $148 per day.1 This is usually not covered by Medicaid, but some states do have assisted living waivers available for Medicaid recipients. Talk to a Medicaid advisor in your state to learn about the available options.

Nursing homes, on the other hand, cost an average of $297 per day for a private room, or $260 per day for a shared room. Medicaid often foots the bill. 

What about independent living communities?

Sometimes called retirement apartments or retirement villages, independent living communities are the neighborhoods or apartment complexes marked “55+.” These communities are geared toward individuals who are mostly or completely independent, but who might also want the company of people their age. They may include facilities and activities designed to help with the social isolation we can face as we get older.

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  1. Genworth, “Cost of Care Survey,” June 2022. Accessed December 12, 2022.

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Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over eight years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She is a certified Safe Sleep Ambassador and has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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