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Assisted living vs nursing homes: what’s the difference?

Fonthill House, St Albans, Hertfordshire

It can be hard to make a decision about the next stage of your life or care when there are many different options. Two main residential care types are nursing homes and assisted living. The two have many similarities, including access to medical care and recreational activities. However, there are slight differences in the level of care between the two. 

What is a nursing home?

A nursing home has round-the-clock medical care. In addition, some nursing homes are specialists for health conditions such as dementia. Some residents live in a nursing home permanently, whereas others will stay for rehabilitative care after a hospital stay. In a nursing home, people generally have ensuite rooms with common places for food and socialising. Therefore, people in nursing homes usually need more care for activities such as eating, exercising and socialising.

What is assisted living?

Assisted living is primarily a residential environment. Therefore, assisted living residents usually have access to different levels of medical attention depending on their needs. For example, staff may help transport residents to doctor appointments or help them take their medication, but residents are usually in good health. Assisted living residences are usually small apartments with kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms. Residents can cook for themselves, or sometimes have areas for shared dining.

What are the main differences between a nursing home and assisted living?

There are a few differences between nursing homes and assisted living, including the level of care and living situations. While nursing home residents have different medical and recreational needs, assisted living works more as a support network when needed.

Level of Care

Residents of nursing homes have access to round-the-clock medical care, including physiotherapists, nurses and access to doctors. Residents of assisted living still have access to medical professionals, but each resident will have different needs at different times.

Living Space

The living spaces in nursing homes and assisted living are quite different. In nursing homes, residents will often have shared or single bedrooms with an ensuite with no access to a kitchen due to the level of care residents need. Assisted living spaces are often bigger with a kitchen, living room and bathroom.

Daily Needs

In nursing homes, residents usually need more support in their daily needs, such as bathing, taking medications and dressing. In assisted living, residents need varying levels of care that can be provided to residents who need them. Residents in assisted living can be offered support like travel to appointments and health management like exercise classes and meal prep, but this depends on the needs of each resident.

Recreational Activities

One of the main benefits of assisted living is keeping the residents physically active and socially connected. Therefore, assisted living residences often have activity programmes with exercise classes and creative lessons such as art or music. However, nursing home residents often have limited physical activities due to their different needs. Therefore, the recreational activities offered to nursing home residents are focused on health and well-being, such as animal therapy and mentally stimulating games. 

Meals

In assisted living, residents have access to a kitchen where they can cook and prepare meals. Many assisted living residences offer meal delivery for an extra fee. In nursing homes, however, dieticians prepare meals for residents. Some residents will require extra assistance for eating and may wish to eat their meals in their rooms, whereas others eat in social spaces. 

Medical Services

Assisted living

Within an assisted living setting, residents can access varying degrees of medical support tailored to their specific requirements. While most residents are typically in good health, they may require help with transportation to doctor appointments or assistance with taking medications. Certain assisted living providers may also feature dedicated facilities designed to cater to individuals dealing with conditions such as dementia or memory-related ailments.

Nursing home

A nursing home is a residential care facility that provides around-the-clock medical care and assistance to individuals with complex medical needs or those who are unable to perform daily activities independently. These facilities offer skilled nursing care, medication management, physical therapy and various medical services. 

They are primarily intended for seniors and individuals with serious health conditions, offering a higher level of medical supervision and care compared to assisted living.

Are there any similarities between a nursing home and assisted living?

Both types of senior living strive to keep their residents healthy, happy and, more importantly, safe. Both provide support of varying lengths, from dressing and bathing to life enrichment and meal preparation. 

Life enrichment is an important part of nursing homes and assisted living, as loneliness is a big part of ageing. Enabling residents to socialise and build relationships is great for mental health. Both nursing homes and assisted living offer different degrees of medical care, but similarities include medication management and physiotherapy. 

Is a nursing home more expensive than assisted living?

Both long-term residences can be expensive, but nursing homes tend to cost more. Nursing homes can even cost double the cost of assisted living facilities sometimes, mostly because of the nursing homes’ level of medical care and daily management of residents. In addition, nursing homes generally offer much more care, such as food, laundry and hygiene support. Whereas, assisted living residents don’t always require this kind of support.

There are many differences between assisted living and nursing homes, and finding which one is best for you and your family depends on the resident’s needs. For example, assisted living residents are usually in better health than nursing home residents, requiring less support in their daily needs and recreational activities. On the other hand, nursing home residents require varying help from health professionals, so may require specialist 1-2-1 care.

How to choose the right assisted living or nursing home facility

Choosing the right assisted living or nursing home facility requires careful consideration. Begin by researching facilities in your desired location and budget range. In fact, you should make sure to visit each facility in person to assess the cleanliness, safety, amenities and overall atmosphere. For instance, in some nursing homes, residents can cook for themselves or sometimes have areas for shared dining. Take a look at our Fonthill House for yourself. 

In addition, consider factors like proximity to family, the staff-to-resident ratio and any specialised care options. Finally, consult with the necessary healthcare professionals and seek recommendations to ensure the chosen facility aligns with your loved one’s unique needs and preferences.

There are many differences between assisted living and nursing homes, and finding which one is best for you and your family depends on the resident’s needs. For example, assisted living residents are usually in better health than nursing home residents, requiring less support in their daily needs and recreational activities. On the other hand, nursing home residents require varying help from health professionals, so may require specialist 1-2-1 care.

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