Healthline Article

What are the key differences between assisted living and nursing homes?

Healthline reported on the differences between assisted living facilities (ALF) and skilled nursing facilities (SNF). It is an excellent article. Full of important information. Most families find these decisions complicated and difficult. Call us if we can help. Below are excerpts of the Healthline article.

Long-term care options for older adults are more varied than ever. But deciding which option is best for yourself or a loved one can be complicated. A good place to begin is by deciding what level of care is right for your circumstances.

Assisted living is primarily a residential environment, while nursing homes — also called skilled nursing facilities — are considered medical environments. To clarify the distinction, here’s a summary of some key differences between the two.

Medical services

Assisted living

In an assisted living facility, residents have access to different levels of medical attention depending on their individual needs.

For example, a facility may provide transportation to doctor appointments or help with taking medications. Some assisted living facilities offer special areas for people with dementia or conditions that affect memory.

Nursing home

In a nursing home, medical care is provided round the clock. A nursing staff helps care for residents with chronic illnesses.

Rehabilitative services such as physical, occupational, respiratory, and speech therapy are provided for those who need them.

Some residents live there long term, and some are admitted for a shorter period of rehabilitation after a hospital stay.

Living space

Assisted living

In an assisted living facility, people often live in individual or shared apartments with kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms.

Some facilities offer furnished spaces. Common areas invite residents to share meals and activities if they choose.

Nursing home

In a nursing home, people generally have individual or shared rooms with en-suite bathrooms.

Many nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities have common spaces where residents can share meals or participate in activities together.

Assistance with daily activities

Assisted living

If residents of an assisted living facility need help with daily activities, such as bathing or getting dressed, those services are provided.

Laundry, housekeeping, and meal preparation services are available to residents who need them.

Nursing home

In a nursing home, most people need more extensive help caring for their daily needs.

Staff members help residents bathe, dress, use the restroom, and take their medications. Staff prepares meals, does laundry, and clean for residents.

Recreational activities

Assisted living

One of the hallmarks of assisted living facilities is the wide range of activities offered to residents.

Research shows that staying physically activeTrusted Source and socially connected is crucial to maintaining the health of older adults.

Most assisted living facilities offer opportunities for physical exercise, creative expression, and socializing. Some offer religious services and opportunities to volunteer in the community.

Nursing home

In nursing homes, the variety of recreational activities may be more limited.

Many nursing homes offer art classes, choir, cooking classes, animal therapy, educational courses, and mentally stimulating games for residents to enjoy.

Physical therapists supervise exercise activities with a focus on helping residents gain strength, improve mobility, and prevent falls.

2018 research reviewTrusted Source showed that these supervised physical activity sessions have important health benefits for residents of long-term care homes.


Assisted living

In an assisted living facility, residents may cook for themselves in their kitchenettes or take meals in community dining rooms.

Some facilities offer meal delivery services for a fee. Dining rooms may stay open all day or may serve meals at set times throughout the day.

Nursing home

In a nursing home, dieticians prepare meals for residents. Depending on their personal wishes and mobility, the staff provides meals to residents in their rooms or in a communal dining room.

Personal aides are usually available to help residents who have difficulty eating on their own.


The American Health Care Association has reported that the cost of nursing home care is roughly double the cost of assisted living residence.

For residents paying out of pocket, the annual cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is around $89,000, while an assisted living facility costs approximately $48,000 a year.

Insurance coverage

Medicare does cover some costs of a nursing home or skilled nursing facility if you need to be there to recuperate from a health condition, surgery, or injury. But you typically have to cover some costs yourself if your stay extends beyond 20 days.

Medicare usually does not pay for assisted living or for help with custodial care (help with the activities of daily living).

Some state Medicaid programs pay for assisted living or nursing home care, but the rules vary in each state. Some states may require Medicaid beneficiaries to spend their funds before Medicaid begins paying for services.

According to, some people invest in long-term care insurance policies to cover their costs, but the specific benefits vary in each plan.

Some policies only cover care in a nursing home while other policies include at-home care and assisted living facilities.

Before you purchase a long-term care policy, be sure to read the provisions carefully so you understand in advance what is and isn’t covered.

What type of facility is right for you?

The kind of facility that’s right for you will depend on your health and how much help you need with daily activities.

Here are a few questions to decide which kind of facility is best for you or someone you love:

  • How much help do you need to take care of daily activities like bathing, dressing, and using the restroom?
  • Do you need medical care for serious health conditions?
  • Are you able to prepare your meals?
  • How do you plan to pay for the care you need?

As you compare facilities, keep these questions in mind:

  • Does the facility have a license to operate?
  • Has the facility been audited or inspected by any healthcare agency, and are the reports available?
  • Do the residents seem happy and well cared for?
  • What medical professionals are on staff, and what’s their availability?
  • What’s the ratio of residents to staff members?
  • What’s the procedure for handling a medical emergency with a resident?
  • Can people receive visits from their doctors or home healthcare providers?
  • Which services are included in the basic cost and which are offered at an extra charge?
  • Who gives people their medications?
  • What’s the staff turnover rate?
  • Will the facility provide transportation to doctor appointments?
  • How close is the facility to your family and friends?
  • Do they offer recreational activities?
  • Do residents go on community outings?
  • Can residents bring their own furnishings?
  • Do residents share bathrooms?
  • Can you review a copy of the contract, so you understand the policies, procedures, and costs carefully?

If possible, visit facilities more than once. Talk with friends, neighbors, colleagues, medical professionals, and local organizations that serve older adults to get a sense of which facilities provide the best care in your area.

The bottom line

Deciding when to transition from independent living to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility isn’t easy. Understanding the options in your area is a good place to begin.

Assisted living facilities may be a good choice if you’re in fairly good health but still need help. A nursing home may be better if you need 24-hour medical care along with basic services.

Once you’ve identified the type of facility you need, review options to find one for your budget, your needs, and provides the right services for you.