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Understanding the Difference Between Assisted Living and a Nursing Home

Is assisted living the same as a nursing home? Learn the difference between assisted living & nursing homes & decide which option is best for your loved one.

When the term “assisted living community” is used, it may be thought of as a nursing home. But these two senior living options aren’t the same. So how does assisted living differ from a nursing home? Both are a form of long-term care, but they differ in purpose, levels of care, residences and lifestyle.


  • Assisted living: A special combination of housing, personalized supportive services, and health care designed to meet the needs — both scheduled and unscheduled — of those who require help with daily activities. Some states refer to assisted living as residential care.
  • Nursing homes: Licensed daily rate or rental properties that are technically referred to as skilled nursing facilities (SNF) or nursing facilities (NF), where the majority of individuals require 24/7 nursing and/or medical care.

Levels of Care

  • Assisted living: Assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting and medication reminders. Residents also have access to health and medical services.
  • Nursing homes: Residents also receive assistance with activities of daily living, but primarily need ongoing palliative or complex medical care, medication management and administration, and possibly specialized rehabilitation services.This level of care can’t be provided in assisted living.


  • Assisted living: Residents typically live in a private apartment with a kitchenette and have access to the community’s common areas and campus.
  • Nursing homes: Residents live in a private or semiprivate room and have access to common areas, depending on their mobility.


  • Assisted living: Provides personal care in a homelike setting and is designed to maximize quality of life while preserving independence. Residents may still drive and cook, they can come and go freely, and they can participate in community activities. Services typically include housekeeping, laundry, a meal plan, security, activities and transportation.
  • Nursing homes: Provide medical and personal care in a more clinical setting. Residents aren’t able to live independently, and while there may be recreational opportunities, the focus is on care, safety and comfort. Services typically include housekeeping and laundry, a meal plan, and access to rehabilitation.

Who Benefits from an Assisted Living Community?

Those who may benefit from an assisted living community typically:

  • Need help with two or more activities of daily living
  • Need minor nursing assistance but not full-time care
  • Want to enjoy an active, social lifestyle
  • Appreciate maintenance-free living

Who Benefits from a Nursing Home?

Nursing homes are for those who:

  • Can no longer care for themselves independently
  • Are not mobile without assistance
  • Need around-the-clock care due to chronic health conditions or deteriorating health
  • Require extensive rehabilitation following an injury or major surgery

As you can see, there’s quite a bit of difference between assisted living and a nursing home. If you’d like to learn more about assisted living communities in your area, you can use the senior living locator tool to find those near you. If you’re considering an assisted living community, use this assisted living checklist so you’ll know what to look for and what kinds of questions to ask.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.

National Institute on Aging
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