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Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes: Criteria, Services, and Costs

Senior woman and daughter

A lot of people mistakenly use the terms “assisted living facility” and “nursing home” interchangeably, but there are several key differences between these care options.

According to research by the National Institute of Health, there are about 1.5 million elderly adults above the age of 65 in nursing homes and 1 million in assisted living facilities. This population group of 65+ individuals is growing rapidly as 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day. In fact, the group has grown by 34.2% over the last decade and is expected to continue growing at a rapid pace meaning more and more people will require care in an assisted living or nursing home.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 70% of these individuals will need some type of long-term care services, so we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to understand the differences between assisted living and nursing homes. Find out the criteria, services, and costs associated with each of these options.


What is an assisted living facility?

Assisted living facilities are meant to support residents with self-care, meaning residents are often still able to go about their daily lives and will only receive assistance when needed. The majority of these residents don’t need constant supervision to perform essential activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, or eating. Emergency medical care and support are available when needed, but otherwise, residents are usually able to live somewhat independently. Residents typically live in a private or shared apartment, and most assisted living facilities have about 50 residents.


What is a nursing home?

Nursing homes are primarily for individuals that require more extensive medical care on a day-to-day basis. Individuals are typically unable to perform essential activities of daily living without assistance, so nursing homes offer 24-hour care and hands-on assistance. Some people will live in a nursing home temporarily to receive rehabilitative care while recovering from physical trauma, while others may have mental health issues that require a long-term stay. Residents may have a private or shared room, and the average nursing home has about 95 residents.


Differences between assisted living and nursing homes

Criteria for assisted living vs. nursing homes

Contrary to what many would believe, nursing homes and assisted living facilities generally do not have a minimum age requirement that prevents non-elderly individuals from living there. Rules may vary from place to place, but both of these care options are usually available for anyone above the age of 18 that requires assistive care. 

Eligibility for these facilities depends on the level of care required. Assisted living facilities are for individuals who can function independently with occasional assistance for activities of daily living. Individuals with more complex requirements such as severe cognitive impairment or extensive medical needs may be turned away from an assisted living facility and advised to consider a nursing home.

The criteria for admission into a nursing home is much stricter. Individuals must require assistance with activities of daily living and need skilled nursing care or rehab services above the level of room and board. In many cases, the need for these services must be noted by a physician.

Services for assisted living vs nursing homes

Care services are the most notable difference between what you’ll find at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. 

At an assisted living facility, care services are primarily to support residents with self-care. Caretakers may remind or assist residents with taking their medicine in addition to non-care recreational services such as transportation, meals, laundry, and general housekeeping. Residents can request assistance with other activities if needed and staff may help minor medical issues, but in the case of emergencies, residents will usually be taken to a hospital. In fact, not all assisted living facilities have trained nurses on staff.

By comparison, nursing homes offer a far more extensive level of care and services for residents who have more complex needs. Nursing homes have attending physicians who supervise each resident and a variety of other specialists including nurses, occupational, physical, and speech therapists are on-hand. Patients receive 24-hour supervision to assist with any needs. These facilities also tend to have more medical equipment such as X-ray machines, electric beds, and patient lifts.

Cost of assisted living vs. nursing homes

A lot of people ask “Are nursing homes more expensive than assisted living facilities?” and the answer is overwhelmingly yes. The average cost for an assisted living facility is about $4,000 a month, or $48,000 per year. By comparison, the average cost for a nursing home is $7,441 a month, which equates to $89,292 per year. Essentially, nursing homes are about twice as expensive as assisted living facilities.


How to pay for an assisted living or nursing home

Few people are prepared to cover the cost of long-term care. Medicare does not typically cover these expenses, and strict requirements for Medicaid mean many people who need care won’t meet the eligibility criteria. Even if you do receive Medicaid, the amount will likely be insufficient to cover long-term care costs.

The most common ways for paying long-term care expenses include: selling a home, taking on a reverse mortgage, long-term care insurance, veteran assistance, or a life settlement. 

Out of these options, we recommend the life settlement because it provides seniors with a large cash sum without sacrificing assets you may be using in your lifetime. With a life settlement, you can sell your life insurance policy in exchange for a lump cash sum that can be used as you see fit to cover any expenses that may come up during retirement such as long-term care in an assisted living or nursing home. If you don’t end up needing long-term care services, you can also use the money to go on vacation, purchase a new home, or any other way you please to make the most of you golden years. If you’re curious about pursuing a life settlement but want to know how much your policy is worth, contact Harbor Life Settlements to get a FREE, no-obligation estimate.

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Avery Logan

Avery Logan

Avery Logan is a content consultant for Harbor Life Settlements with expertise on a range of health and finance related subjects. When Avery's not cranking out content, he can be found at the nearest dog park or movie theater.

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