How are assisted living facilities different from nursing homes?

Assisted living refers to senior communities that are designed for those with a high degree of independence yet still require some assistance.  The staff in assisted living help with meals, hygiene, medication, and housekeeping.  Nursing homes are for seniors that require assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Nursing homes often offer more intensive medical and memory care as well as more varied and available nurses and staff. Nursing homes often house seniors recovering from injury or illness or those with debilitating conditions.

What kind of time commitments are there?

Assisted living facilities are not like other typical housing arrangements.  Assisted living facilities do not require leasing contracts or time commitments, although some may require a move-out notice. Seniors pay month-to-month and can choose to relocate any time if unsatisfied or their medical needs change. Retirement communities often operate using time commitments while nursing homes often provide services until the resident either recovers or requires hospice care.

How does assisted living help maintain medication?

These facilities not only offer medication maintenance services, they often consolidate the medication needs to consolidate the process and ensure that medication is being taken to maximum benefit. Healthcare workers in these communities often order, store, administer, and monitor all medication. The staff may also maintain communication with doctors as well as order new medication as needed. Nursing homes provide medication services automatically while some assisted living facilities may consider medication administration an additional service.

What kind of social interaction is expected? Is socializing required?

Social interaction is encouraged but not required. Often both facilities offer plenty of optional opportunities for seniors to socialize, including picnics, cookouts, birthday parties, movie nights, and outings throughout town.  Seniors also have the choice to eat with others in the public dining room or in the privacy of their room. Sometimes facilities will offer access to clubs or hobby groups where seniors can socialize as well. These activities are always elective and more solitary seniors should never feel pressured to participate.

Do assisted living facilities help with diet and nutrition?

Both communities provide three meals a day that can be planned according to restrictions, preference, and nutrition. In nursing homes, seniors may not have a lot of control over their meals however each meal is assured to have all of the necessary nutritional and portions. Assisted living communities likely offer private kitchens for more independent seniors or elective meal services for those unable to cook for themselves. Both types of facilities consistently monitor nutrition and hydration throughout the day (when needed) and meals can be served in a dining room for social interaction or in bed as needed.

Do assisted living facilities offer transportation services?

Transportation services tend to vary from facility to facility. However, all facilities offer transportation to nearby medical offices and offer rides to medical appointments. Nursing homes often house doctors, nurses, and physical therapists, requiring minimal travel for residents. Transportation services are more variable in assisted living. Often times, there are additional transportation services for seniors with more frequent medical needs or even for non-essential errands such as movies, dinner, or other fun activities. Some communities even allow seniors to bring their own cars.

Do assisted care facilities allow pets?

Despite the common misconception, many assisted living facilities encourage seniors to bring their pets and even offer services to help care for the animal.  Healthcare workers often recognize positive emotional and physical benefits of having a pet and encourage seniors and their pets to interact with other residents. Some places even offer litter box cleaning, dog walking, and pet grooming services. Nursing homes likely do not allow animals due to the condition of the other residents. Some long-term nursing homes may allow pets or even have their own resident furry friend.

 How often can relatives visit?

In nursing homes, there usually minimal restrictions on a specific time or day loved ones can come visit as they provide staffing 24/7.  Although each visitor is usually required to sign in and out, some facilities may lock their external doors after business hours or may require a key or special permission to enter. Assisted living may be different depending on the community. Some communities may be completely independent, similar to a regular apartment, while others have specific visiting hours.


Learn more about assisted living and other healthcare options at the main Assisted Living page or the main Caregiving page.

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About the Author: Victoria K. Stickley is a copywriter, editor, and senior content manager based in the Dallas area. Her graduate education in counseling and research has helped immensely in her writing as well as the care she provides for her grandparents. She currently provides support and resources to senior care websites as she learns and experiences senior care first-hand.