If you are looking into living arrangements for yourself or an aging loved one, you may be wondering about the difference between an assisted living facility and a nursing home. While they have much in common, there are also important differences between them. Understanding those may help you to make a good decision for yourself or a family member facing a transition.

Continuum of Care

When you're first looking into living arrangements for retirement years, whether for yourself or someone you love, you may discover that assisted living facilities and nursing homes often exist in the same communities. These communities are usually called continuum of care communities, and they offer differing levels of independence and care for the people who live there, according to AARP. Some people move into these communities when they are still active and vigorous, and they live independently in apartments or condos. Then if and when they need living assistance, because of age and declining health, they could move to assisted living facilities. The last level of care would be a full nursing facility, for those who need even more help than they can receive in assisted living. While there are advantages to moving into such a community, they can also prove to be quite expensive.

Differences in Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

Although it's becoming common to find assisted living and nursing home facilities in one community, you can also find them as standalone facilities. Whether you choose that route or a continuum of care community, it's important to understand the differences between the two. The main differences come down to the level of health services you can expect to receive at each of the facilities, and how that affects your level of independence, according to Assisted Living Facilities.

Assisted living facilities generally offer fewer medical services or services that are not as complex. It's expected that people in assisted living need a much less direct level of assistance. Services are more in the background, there if you find yourself needing them. You will have access to important services in housekeeping, transportation, help with daily tasks like bathing and eating, and of course medical assistance, but how you take advantage of them depends on your level of need. While there should be 24-hour access to emergency assistance and sometimes other types of care, many people who live in assisted living still maintain a fair level of independence. A nursing facility, however, assumes that its residents need a much higher level of ongoing care. Generally residents in a nursing home can't live independently anymore and need full-time medical supervision which includes nursing care and rehabilitation services.

Related Resource: Long-term Health Administration

In both facilities, you will have access to meals, transportation, housekeeping, health services, and social and communal services and activities, but how these are provided will differ. Residents in assisted living maintain some level of independence and call on assistance as needed, while residents in nursing homes are more reliant on the ongoing care provided. How each facility is paid for may also differ, and all of these elements may vary across different states. It's a good idea to research options carefully and to ask many questions as you look into the difference between an assisted living facility and a nursing home, so that you can make a wise and informed decision.