Finding the best level of care for a senior citizen can be a challenge. If you’re responsible for making this decision, you want to ensure they’re getting all of the care they need (health and otherwise), while still maintaining a high level of dignity and as much independence as possible. At a certain point, the level of independence has to decrease in order to ensure they’re safe and getting the required care. We need to talk about the difference between assisted living and nursing homes.

In-home care for seniors is a great option for elderly people who are still able to perform basic tasks for themselves and may need a little extra help here and there throughout the day, but once that is no longer a feasible option, it’s time to look at nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Let’s compare some of the differences between assisted living facilities vs nursing homes so help you better understand what to expect from either option, and which one will be ideal for your loved one.

Difference 1: The Appearance

A nursing home has more of a hospital/institution feel to it, physically, as soon as you walk through the door. This is largely due to the 2nd difference that we’ll be looking about, which is the service that each place offers.

Difference 2: The Services Offered

Let’s quickly go over the different types of services that are offered at a senior living facility vs a nursing home.

Senior Living Facility Services

A senior living facility will help their residents with things like preparing meals ahead of time and cooking/warming up their food when its time to eat, hygiene like brushing their teeth or showering, getting dressed in the morning, settling into bed at night, remembering to take their medications and taking the correct medications at the correct times, basic housekeeping and cleaning up in their suite/apartment/townhouse, doing their laundry and drying their clothes, and similar day to day tasks around the house, and they can help facilities indoor activities for seniors, too.

Not every single person living in a senior facility will need help with all of the aforementioned tasks, but if they do need it, it’s there for them. It’s more of a, “have it if you need it” situation. Some days, a resident might need more help than on other days, so it’s there for them. If they’re going through a good stretch and can do most of this on their own, they have the freedom and the space to do that.

Nursing Home Services

The services offered by nursing homes are more medically-involved. They include nurses who will directly administer medication and medication management, physical rehabilitation care as needed, help to manage conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s, etc. Cognitive impairment requires special training to deal with, and requires a much higher level of care and awareness than you would generally find in an assisted living community.

Nursing homes offer around-the-clock care and supervision, because people living in a nursing home could accidentally hurt themselves, wander off, or just not be able to call for help if they are in an emergency situation. They need a much higher level of care, so nursing homes exist to provide that care.

One must be eligible to move into a nursing home, whereas it’s simpler to move into an assisted living facilities since the requirements aren’t as stringent.

Difference 3: The Staffing

Naturally, if one residence is offering more medical care, their staff will have to reflect that. We can’t discuss the demeanours or personalities or dispositions of staff members between one place or another, because that can vary by individual, and it wouldn’t be fair to say that staff in a nursing home are more serious, or that the staff in an assisted living facility are a bit more personable. Many nurses are incredibly kind, caring, friendly and they develop close bonds with their parents, and the same can be said about staff in assisted living facilities.

What we can compare is the career paths of the staff, with nursing homes requiring greater medical care and having a staff that’s made up of people to reflect that. People in a nursing home require more regular medical care, whereas people in assisted living are more likely to need help with cooking a meal sometimes, or keeping track of their bills, etc.

An assisted living facility isn’t a dwelling centred around the availably of skilled nursing, however there will likely be staff on hand to help with emergencies or to help facilities more advanced care as needed.

Difference 4: Socializing

Assisted living facilities offer more opportunities for socializing, group activities, excursions to casinos or parks or the mall, etc. People in nursing homes won’t have as much leeway to be out and about, but nursing homes will also organize various activities for their residents, too, at least for the ones who are able to take advantage of that. Assisted living is more of a social community, where staff are around to help with various tasks.

An assisted living facility has more of a social club feeling to it, partly due to the overall style and layout, the atmosphere, and the abilities of the people living there. People in assisted living are usually a bit more spry and more capable of doing various activities.

Having Difficult Conversations about Nursing Homes and Assisted Living

If your parents or loved ones are still in a cognitive position to have discussions about their care and their wishes, it’s a good idea to talk to them and to see what they know about the different options out there. There’s a 99.9% chance they’ll insist on staying in their homes for as long as possible, and it can be a difficult situation as you want what’s best for them in terms of their health and safety, while still trying to consider their own desires, and helping them maintain their dignity. It’s not easy to go from living an entire life looking out for yourself and surviving, to turning over your agency to a nursing home and no longer being responsible for yourself in the same way that you have been throughout the rest of your life.

Keeping this in mind and having empathy, and trying your best to meet the wishes of your loved ones can make the transition a lot easier. If you discuss this earlier on and create a plan, it might help them to avoid feeling like it’s all being thrust on them out of nowhere, when they’re already dealing with cognitive decline or their physical health declining, not to mention being faced with their own mortality, liking dealing with the losses of family members and friends, and the shift that can happen when someone realizes they’re approaching the final chapters in their story.