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

While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference between assisted living and nursing home care. Assisted living facilities are designed for individuals who might not be able to live on their own anymore but don’t require round-the-clock assistance. Nursing homes are for individuals who require 24-hour skilled nursing care that goes beyond assistance with activities of daily living.

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The different types of living facilities for older individuals

There are several types of living facilities designed for older individuals. Which one is appropriate for your parents will depend on what level of assistance and care is needed. The most common types you’re likely to encounter are the following.

  1. Independent Living Communities: Sometimes called retirement apartments or retirement villages, these 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.
  2. Assisted Living Facilities: These facilities are designed for individuals who may need help with daily tasks like bathing, eating, or getting dressed. There is usually a nursing staff on hand for additional assistance or emergencies. These facilities often provide the same sort of social activities as retirement communities.
  3. Nursing Homes: A step up from assisted living in terms of care, nursing homes provide round-the-clock nursing care for individuals who need it. They may have chronic medical conditions or injuries that require skilled care.
  4. Respite Care: Respite care facilities are short-term communities where residents stay to give their regular caregivers a chance to rest. Caring for someone with chronic health conditions or who requires a high level of care and assistance can be tiring. It is especially difficult if the person is a parent or other family member. Respite care can give you the break you might need to recharge or run a few errands.

If care in a separate facility isn’t the best choice for your family member, there are also in-home care options to consider. These solutions allow your loved one to "age in place" and get assistance right in their own home.

Whichever option you choose, you may want to explore medical alert devices to let you know that your loved one is safe and sound. Consult our medical alert resource guide to learn more.

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Compare the best medical alert systems

Best for
Lowest monthly price
In-home range
Backup battery
Landline option available
Multiple wearable options
Learn more
Read review
Bay Alarm Medical
Best overall1000 ft.32 hours
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
GetSafe medical alert systemGetSafe
Best for budgets1300 ft.32 hours
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
Philips HomeSafe StandardPhilips LifeLine
Best for fall detection400 ft.Not available
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Medical Guardian Classic Guardian systemMedical Guardian
Best for customization1300 ft.32 hours
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best for active lifestyles1400 ft.24 hours
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
aloe care total careAloe Care
Best smart features200 ft.6 hours
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes

Data effective 09/27/2021. Offers and availability subject to change.

Celeste Tholen
Written by
Celeste Tholen
Celeste has dedicated her decade-long career to reporting and reviews that help people make well-informed decisions. She oversees editorial strategy and production for SafeWise, with a goal to help people find the information they need to make their homes and lives safer. Prior to SafeWise, she worked as an editor and reporter for KSL and Deseret News. She continues to report on local news as a volunteer with the community paper. For the last six years, she’s led a Girl Scout troop, teaching girls about safety and preparing for whatever life throws their way.

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