Assisted Living Facilities vs. Nursing Homes

Many seniors reach a point in their lives where they have a difficult time living alone. In these situations, seniors must consider whether they can continue to live on their own or if it makes more sense to move into an assisted living facility (ALF).

These facilities not only help you with your daily tasks, but they also give you access to trained staff and social interactions with other residents in similar situations to yours. Once you have decided to move into such a facility, however, you need to decide on the best type for your needs.

Nursing homes are an excellent option for seniors with additional medical requirements or for seniors who need care around the clock. For seniors who do not require such close medical attention, an assisted living facility (ALF) may be a better alternative. These facilities offer some help to their residents but are not focused solely on medical needs. The regulations, costs and level of independence available can also vary between facility types. When deciding on the best option for your living requirements, it is important to look at all aspects of each type of facility, so you can make a fully informed decision.

Regulation

Nursing homes are regulated, so the standards must be similar across all facilities, no matter where the facilities are located. Each home must be able to provide the same level of care for any acute or chronic condition you require help with, as well as services to assist with various everyday tasks.

The term “assisted living” is not used with exact similarity between states, as this type of business is not regulated in the same way as nursing homes. Your home state may have alternative names for a socially based living arrangement with some additional care and management. This also means the standards for assisted living facilities vary. You may find different types of services, levels of staff training and standards of care. Comparing options for assisted living facilities may prove more difficult than comparing nursing homes, as you must address each aspect of the facility individually to determine the available services.

Services

The services offered by assisted living and nursing homes vary, although there are often areas of overlap. It is important to consider the services you require when deciding between the two types of facilities.

  • Supervision is generally a part of a nursing home’s function, as the staff need to ensure the residents are always safe. There is also supervision at an assisted living facility, although to a lesser extent.
  • Health care is available 24 hours a day at a nursing home, with trained medical staff on site. There may also be an arrangement with a local hospital or clinic, allowing residents to be transported to the hospital or clinic whenever required. An ALF may have its own health care service, but this depends on the individual facility.
  • Recreation is often a focus of assisted living facilities. There are generally activities provided for all residents, intended to encourage group communication, friendships and a feeling of community, along with the autonomy to make your own connections. This is very important for senior mental health. Nursing homes may also provide recreation, but this is secondary to the health care services, and there is often less of an emphasis on freedom of choice.
  • Domestic assistance such as meal services and cleaning are provided at a nursing home for all residents. These services may be available at an ALF, but residents may also have their own kitchens and be able to maintain their own living areas. However, this varies depending on the facility.
  • Rehabilitation after an illness or surgery is provided by a nursing home but not by an assisted living facility. Seniors who require rehabilitation may benefit from a short term stay at a nursing home before moving on.

Independence

If you are concerned with your independence and privacy, you may be more in favor of an assisted living facility than a nursing home. Assisted living means you have the option to remain more independent, particularly if there are fewer daily tasks you require help with. Residents generally have their own living spaces they are in control of, rather than a single or shared room immediately accessible by staff.

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ALFs are designed to allow the residents to remain on the premises, with food and entertainment provided. Social interactions and community events are often included in the arrangements for an assisted living situation. However, depending on the facility, you have the option to choose your own activities.

The independence available in an assisted living facility, however, depends on your ability to perform daily tasks without assistance. If you require a higher level of help than an assisted living facility can provide, you may find you are able to accomplish less than if you had the help provided at a nursing home.

Facility Costs

Nursing homes, with their additional medical provisions and 24-hour care, often cost more than ALFs. However, you may be able to use Medicaid to help you pay for the services at a nursing home. An assisted living facility may have a lower cost on a monthly basis. However, you are responsible for paying the rent yourself. As with other rental agreements, there is the risk of losing your lease if you are unable to keep up with payments.

Deciding on a Facility

You need to decide for yourself between these two types of facilities. When making your decision, it is important to consider both the abilities and the needs best suited for each type of facility:

  • Nursing home residents generally have high levels of need. They may not be able to walk without assistance and may have a medical condition requiring daily care and consistent supervision. They might struggle with communication or cognition to the point that constant help is needed.
  • ALF residents can transport themselves, and do not require constant assistance, but still need some daily help. These residents must be able to communicate clearly and be willing to accept help when it is required.

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