Assisted Living and Nursing Homes: What’s the Difference?

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 13 October 2011

The first nursing homes emerged as a long-term care option in the late 40s/early 50s, primarily as an extension of hospital care. Now, just 60 years later, we have independent living, assisted living, Alzheimer’s care, retirement homes that are more like resorts than medical facilities, and several other variations of senior care & housing options (some of which are still evolving).

Having more choices is a plus, but it also leads to more confusion regarding just what distinguishes one care community from the next.

  • Assisted living facilities are perhaps the most popular of these new alternatives, as it provides a “middle ground” level of care. Those who choose assisted living generally do not need the skilled medical services or 24-hour care a nursing home provides, but they may require assistance with various ADLs/IADLs (learn more about these terms here).
  • Assisted living and nursing homes are bound by different licensing requirements and regulations, and sometimes by separate state departments.
  • A limited number of healthcare services are offered in assisted living as compared to nursing homes, as there are fewer requirements regarding the ratio of medically-trained staff (RNs, LPNs, PAs, etc.).
  • The cost of nursing home care can be covered by Medicare/Medicaid; assisted living, on the whole, is private pay.


Learn more about assisted living here.


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