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Nursing Homes vs. Assisted Living

An Overview of the Significant Differences

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Assisted living facilities and nursing homes serve different types of residents—mostly—and are generally paid for by different programs, if you can get assistance; not everyone qualifies.

Here is an overview of the significant differences you’ll find between assisted living and nursing homes:

Assisted Living Facilities

While assisted living facilities are still designed for residents who are more healthy and independent, more and more facilities have begun taking on residents with cognitive and physical impairments—and many assisted living facilities have separate memory care wings.

These types of communities are designed for adults who are able to do most things on their own, but who need a certain amount of support and companionship. Many assisted living communities offer separate apartments or condos, but with an element of communal living.

Assisted living facilities may provide planned activities, housekeeping services, meals, health and exercise classes, communal areas to casually socialize, and laundry services.

These types of facilities also offer help with activities of daily living including personal hygiene tasks, eating, cooking, dressing, medication management, and housekeeping. This is one of the key factors that separates assisted living from independent living facilities, which are designed generally for the healthiest and most physically independent category of older adult.

However, assisted living facilities do not usually offer round-the-clock medical support. Some facilities have a nurse or doctor visit periodically, and offer transportation to local hospitals to residents who need it.

Medicaid and Medicare do not pay for assisted living costs, although in 41 states including Texas, there are waiver programs that help low-income residents pay for assisted living. In Texas, it's referred to as the Texas STAR Plus Waiver Program which is active in select areas of the state.

Assisted living facilities are regulated at the state level, so the operating rules are slightly different on a state-by-state basis.

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Nursing Home Care

A nursing home is a place for people who don't need to be in a hospital but can't be cared for at home. Most nursing homes have nursing aides and skilled nurses on hand 24 hours a day.

Some nursing homes are set up like a hospital. The staff provides medical care, as well as physical, speech and occupational therapy. There might be a nurses' station on each floor. Other nursing homes try to be more like home. They try to have a neighborhood feel. Often, they don't have a fixed day-to-day schedule, and kitchens might be open to residents. Staff members are encouraged to develop relationships with residents.

Some nursing homes have special care units for people with serious memory problems such as Alzheimer's disease. Some will let couples live together. Nursing homes are not only for the elderly, but for anyone who requires 24-hour care.

Talk to your doctor about the type of assistance you or your loved one needs, and you’ll be able to decide which is right for you.

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