What's the difference between a nursing home and assisted living facility?
Aging Matters

Do you know the differences between a nursing home and an assisted living facility? Long-term care offers a broad range of medical, personal, and social services needed by people unable to meet the basic living needs for an extended period. The basic needs include bathing, eating, and dressing, and it requires the aid of a caregiver or home helper to do them. Residents living in an assisted living facility or nursing home receive help carrying out these activities.

Knowing which facility is best for a loved one, at least in the beginning of a search, is confusing and families have trouble understanding the differences.

Nursing Homes

It is an option for residents who require on-going medical supervision and continuous nursing care. They have substantial deficiencies with activities of daily living. They are unable to live alone or independently. Residents cannot leave on their own, mainly because they're physically or mentally powerless. While some residents in assisted living might need assistance with medication management, bathing, and additional responsibilities, they are capable of handling most activities on their own.

  • Payments covered by private out-of-pocket pay, private health insurance or long-term care insurance policies. Medicare or Medicaid may also pay for nursing home care under certain circumstances. Costs depend on the level of attention and services one receives.
  • Nursing facilities certified to participate in Medicare, Medicaid or both.
  • Certified nursing home have licensed practical nurses on duty 24 hours a day. And for at least 8 hours per day, seven days a week, it's required that a registered nurse is on duty.
  • Average monthly costs for a nursing home (2015) are $6,691 per month for a semi-private room or $7,604 per month for a private room.
  • The highest cost state is Connecticut and lowest cost state Oklahoma. (Nursing home)
  • The average stay is 28.8 months that 30% are men, and 70% are women.

Assisted Living

It is an independent option offering security to residents to meet their need for personal care, and daily living activities if required. States regulate assisted living facilities, not the federal government, so limits on services like medication assistance exist.

  • Payments covered by long-term care insurance, private out-of-pocket pay but not health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid--in most cases.
  • Many states cover some assisted living services under their Medicaid programs; however, these fluctuate widely regarding eligibility requirements and dollar amounts of coverage.
  • Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses are available and on call but are not present at all times.
  • Average monthly costs for assisted living (2015) are $3,600 per month. The costs increase by the size of apartment and living space.
  • The highest cost state is Massachusetts and lowest cost state Georgia. (Assisted living)
  • The average stay is 28.3 months that 26% are men, and 74% are women.

Learn more about differences with this Infographic.

Carol Marak is the editor at SeniorCare.com. She's earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of CA, Davis.

Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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