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November 12, 2019

Assisted Living Vs Nursing Homes: What's the Difference?

As you begin the process of looking for supportive care for your loved one, you will have many options to choose from, including nursing homes and assisted living communities. Each type of care meets the unique needs of its residents and offers varying benefits. To help you decide, we've developed a guide on the similarities and differences between assisted living and nursing homes.

How is the Care Different in Assisted Living Vs Nursing Homes?

In nursing homes, you’ll find that seniors become residents due to a fall or an incident that has caused their health to decline. Nursing homes provide more hands-on support with activities of daily living, such as personal hygiene (bathing and grooming), dressing, feeding, ambulating (ability to change from one position to the other), and continence management. Medical treatment is typically administered on-site through in-house or visiting medical staff (i.e. doctors). Nursing homes are often for people who need around-the-clock care and have more complex medical issues. 

More often than not, seniors don’t make a choice to go to a nursing home on their own. It’s through the suggestion or nudge of a concerned family member or physician. It’s not unusual to find some residents have a shorter stay and may move to an assisted living community or with a loved one after rehabilitation. 

In assisted living, you’ll find seniors become residents for many reasons, including the need to downsize, social stimulation, and assistance with activities of daily living. Assisted living communities can be a great option for someone transitioning to a retirement lifestyle, where everyday tasks such as housekeeping, meal preparation, and utilities are included. Residents in assisted living communities traditionally stay longer. 

In some assisted living communities, you may find supportive rehabilitation services, such as physical therapy and exercise programs. Additionally, some offer memory care services for residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia. These communities have trained medical professionals, such as registered nurses, on-site and they have visiting medical staff. However, residents are able to keep their usual doctors and the community will transport them to their appointments.

Assisted living and nursing homes both provide 24-hour supervision. Each community offers medication management, but some assisted living communities will charge for this service. Additionally, each should offer individual care plans for residents.

Differences in Dining and Nutrition

Assisted living and nursing homes both offer three meals per day and accommodate the dietary needs and preferences of residents. The primary differences between the two is the quality of food and additional dining choices.

In some assisted living communities, for example, there may be restaurant-style dining, which means residents can choose from different meals on the menu; this is in addition to the three meals per day. Furthermore, there can be options for residents to eat when they would like instead of eating at an assigned time. Families can join their loved ones for a meal at either type of community.

Overview of Activities and Socialization

Nursing homes and assisted living communities offer the opportunity for socialization, with in-house daily activities ranging from games—such as Bingo, puzzles, and cards—to arts and crafts and exercise.

Due to the majority of the residents having increased mobility, assisted living communities can offer an expanded activity calendar, which may include field trips to local attractions such as the zoo, movies, or parks. Additional activities may include happy hours, movie nights, and shopping excursions.

Is the Pricing Different for Assisted Living Vs Nursing Homes?

Nursing homes accept private pay, Medicare, and Medicaid as well as benefits from the Veteran’s Administration. However, it’s important to remember that Medicare only offers limited coverage for some seniors. US News and World Report writes, “since Medicare does not cover long-term care, the program does not pay for assisted living costs, though it may cover certain services, such as home health or outpatient therapy benefits for assisted living residents.”

Additionally, if a senior has had an extended stay at a nursing home and depleted their finances, state medicated programs can provide assistance. According to US News and World Report, “to qualify for these services, a person would have to meet their state’s level of care criteria and financial eligibility requirements.” 

Assisted living communities require out-of-pocket payment and some don’t accept Medicare or Medicaid. Nonetheless, they do accept payouts from benefits such as the Veteran’s Administration. As explained by, the Aid and Attendance (A&A) Pension can provide up to $1,794 per month to a veteran, $1,153 per month to a surviving spouse, or $2,127 per month to a couple. A veteran filing with a sick spouse is eligible for up to $1,410 per month. Residents can also cash out whole life insurance policies, or, use the funds from long-term care policies

If you decide to move your loved one to an assisted living community or a nursing home, it’s important to plan ahead and not wait until the need arises.


The process of finding the right home as your loved one enters the next chapter of their life can be overwhelming. Whether you need someone to answer questions about the transition process or if you’re interested in learning more about our communities at Provision Living, we’re here to help you every step of the way. We encourage you to reach out to one of our care consultants today. 


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How to Pay for Nursing Home Costs

Long-Term Care Insurance Explained

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About the Author

Aleshia currently serves as the digital and social media manager for Provision Living Senior Communities. Her strength is in developing digital marketing strategies, streamlining content, and enhancing digital engagement. She holds a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Missouri-Saint Louis and a master's degree in communication arts from Webster University.