Assisted Living vs. Nursing Home: What's the Difference?

Sometimes you know a parent or loved one needs help with their daily routine, but it can be difficult to tell what that help should look like.

For many people, moving to assisted living or long term care is the next step. What’s the difference between these two types of senior care, and how can you tell which is right for your loved one?

Assisted Living vs. Long Term Care

One way to understand the difference is by thinking of assisted living as a place where your loved one can receive help with daily care, but is still independent.

That often means he or she lives in their own room or apartment and shares common areas. There’s a level of supervision that includes some cues for tasks such as eating, getting dressed, taking medications, bathing and going to appointments.

Long term care – also referred to as skilled nursing or nursing home care ­– can offer much of the same, but it's for residents who need assistance with care 24 hours a day in a setting supervised by licensed nurses.

Many senior living communities also offer memory care. This is a specialized form of care for those with dementia or other types of memory disorders. While some homes offer this as a separate unit, others offer some memory care services as part of long term care. 

It depends on the progression of the disease and the individual community, so investigate your options if you’re looking for memory care services.

Related: Is it time for assisted living?

How Do I Know Which Type of Care My Loved One Needs?

Issues such as medication management, incontinence and mental health can sometimes make it difficult to tell which type of care is best.

If you have a question about the type of care that’s best for your loved one, you don’t have to make a guess. Instead, turn to professionals to help you make a decision.

First, check with your loved one’s doctor. Ask them to help complete an assessment to see how well your loved one is able to perform the activities of daily living (ADLs). ADLs can include:

  •     Feeding oneself
  •     Bathing or showering
  •     Using the toilet
  •     Getting dressed

If your loved one needs help with one or more of these, they may be a good fit for either assisted living or long term care. There are secondary activities of daily living, too – like paying bills, getting groceries and keeping the house clean. People who need help with only these secondary ADLs are typically a good fit for assisted living.

You can also check with an individual senior living community to see if they can help you assess your loved one. Levels of care are different at different communities, so this can help you see how your loved one would fit in at a specific place. 

Related: Is my loved one eligible to live at Maine Veterans’ Homes?

Care Services at Maine Veterans’ Homes

Maine Veterans’ Homes is an independent, nonprofit network of six communities throughout Maine. We are proud to care for those who served – veterans, their spouses and Gold Star parents.

We offer a range of care for our residents, including:

  •   Rehabilitation and therapy
  •   Short term skilled nursing
  •   Long term skilled nursing
  •   Assisted living
  •   Memory care

Learn more about our communities by downloading a free brochure. You'll also receive a free bonus checklist with 20 questions to help you evaluate senior living communities. 

request a brochure

This blog was originally published July 25, 2019. It has been updated November 20, 2019.