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What is the difference between assisted living and nursing home care? Blog

What is the difference between assisted living and nursing home care?

Published on Apr 12, 2021

People often are confused about the differences between assisted living and nursing homes.   Many media reports may often refer to a nursing home as an assisted living center due to a misunderstanding of the differences in services, care, and financial considerations. This blog will explore the differences between assisted living and nursing home care. 

What is a nursing home or Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF)? 
Nursing homes, now known as Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs), are residential centers providing care for people needing higher levels of medical care that are recommended by a physician. Services typically include nursing care, rehabilitation, dietary needs, environmental and maintenance services, and activities to ensure patients are active and engaged with other patients and their community. 

In the past, and often depicted in popular culture such as movies and television shows, nursing homes are shown as depressing places where elderly people are facing long-term illnesses and end-of-life care. The “old folk’s home” is a powerful image that has dominated the public’s perception of nursing homes. These misconceptions are far from the truth as people receiving care in a SNF enjoy friends and family visiting, meet new friends and enjoy a variety of activities in the center and community. 

SNFs treat a variety of patients for physical, occupational, speech therapy and more goal to return home. Many patients are treated at SNFs after treatment at a hospital and before being discharged to home. 

Many offer memory care units, which are usually separated from other residents, to assist those facing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Not all SNFs have memory care units, however most states have regulations that require all employees to undergo dementia and Alzheimer’s training. 

What is assisted living? 
Assisted living (AL) is a residential community for people who may need some help with daily care, but not as much care as a SNF would provide. Individuals in ALs can care for themselves for the most part, but may need some help with household chores, cooking, laundry, bathing, medication management or transportation to appointments. 

Assisted living communities often offer more private living spaces such as small apartments while SNFs offer private and semi-private rooms. The homelike setting and services offered are completely dependent on the level of care the individual needs. The person would only use those services that apply to their needs or preferences.  

Other features of assisted living may include a gym for residents or even allow the option to bring their family pet. 

Entering a nursing home or assisted living center:
The rationale and process for entering a nursing home or assisted living center can be different and varies from case to case. For example, an elderly couple who may still be living at home may be looking to downsize to something more manageable. With some minor health conditions to consider, the couple may choose to sale their home and move into an assisted living center. 

Now, picturing the same couple at their family home, the wife falls while sweeping the porch and has a hip fracture. After surgery to repair the hip, the discharge planner at the hospital will work with the family and possibly recommend a short stay in a SNF to build strength and functions before returning home.  

Paying for Care:
The other major difference between SNFs and ALs are financial resources and paying for care. SNFs, because of the higher levels of clinical and rehabilitation services provided, are very expensive and few families can afford to pay the entire costs over a patient’s stay. Typically, the individual receiving care may need to qualify to receive Medicaid and/or Medicare as a payor source due to limited resources to pay privately.

Typically, ALs are largely paid for out-of-pocket by those receiving care. Some long-term care insurance may cover some costs, but not the entirety of services.   

For more information on SNFs and ALs, please visit the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living.


Author: Brandon S. Totten, Community Relations Manager
AMFM Nursing & Rehabilitation Centers