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Assisted Living vs. Nursing Home vs. Home Care: Making the Right Choice

by Jessica Hegg June 23, 2023 0 Comments

Senior black mum and her middle aged daughter

At one point or another, most seniors require more care than they or their families are able to provide. This is where paid caregivers come in, providing support with everything from daily living tasks to full medical support. However, choosing the right type of care can be daunting at first, as there are so many options to choose from.

If you’re trying to decide which level of care is best for you or your loved one, the best place to start is to understand the difference between assisted living vs nursing homes vs home care. Take a look at our full guide to see what makes each of these options unique.

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted living facilities are designed to provide support to older adults who require some level of care but are still active and able to oversee many aspects of their lives. Every assisted living community is a little bit different, combining healthcare, housing, and daily support services into a complete package. Staff is present to help with tasks like eating, bathing, and dressing, but there are not as many medical staff to provide regular skilled nursing.

Social activities are one major aspect of assisted living, where games, entertainment, social areas, and regularly scheduled community events are organized by the facility. This helps keep the residents active and engaged on a daily basis.

Levels of Assisted Care

Assisted living communities come in all shapes and sizes, and it's important to know what options are out there to ensure you make the right choice. Generally, they are organized into three broad groups, from level 1 to level 3:

  • Level 1

    This is the lowest level of care and is appropriate for seniors who still have full mobility and are able to manage their own personal hygiene. It focuses on helping residents with tasks like taking medications, housekeeping, doing laundry, and getting into and out of the bath. In most cases, CNAs manage these tasks under the supervision of registered nurses.

    Learn Ways to Improve Safety Around the Home for Independent Seniors

  • Level 2

    A mid-range level of care for older adults who need some one-on-one help from caregivers but still have some level of mobility and independence.  CNAs are present to help residents with tasks like getting dressed, sharing, and getting onto and off of the toilet. Generally, they require more attention and care than level 1 residents.

  • Level 3

    Also called Enhanced Assisted Living, requires the highest level of care and hands-on help for many daily tasks. These are usually residents who have a low level of mobility or mild dementia, which means they require a higher level of supervision and care.

Benefits of Assisted Living

While assisted living offers a lower level of care for seniors, it also gives them a higher level of freedom. This can make it the perfect choice for those who need help with several daily tasks but want to retain some level of independence.

Learn more about the benefits of assisted living here:

  • Provides Community

    One of the most difficult things about aging is gradually falling out of touch with friend groups. Mobility and communication challenges, losing the ability to drive, and the passing of life can often leave seniors feeling isolated and alone. That’s why assisted living communities prioritize social interaction as part of their programming.

    Film screenings, game areas, gyms, and beauty salons are all popular services offered by assisted living communities. They allow residents to enjoy a full life while interacting with others in the community on a regular basis. When you’re looking at different assisted living communities, make sure to take a close look at the amenities it offers, as well as an on-site view of the people who make up the community.

    If you’re looking for other ways to stay active and connect with your community, check out our complete guide here.

  • Helps Transition

    Most of us have to come to terms with the fact that we will one day be more dependent on the care of others than we are now. It’s not an easy idea for anyone to get used to, which is why assisted living communities are so important. They allow seniors to gradually adjust their lives, so when the time comes to transition to a higher level of care, they’ll be better prepared.

    Assisted living communities also offer a lot of flexibility to residents. In most cases, they only require a 30-day notification to move, letting seniors transition in and out as needed.

  • 24-Hour Care

    While many assisted living communities offer a relatively lower level of care, they still offer support when it’s needed. Even level 1 facilities have medical staff on-site to respond in case of an emergency. Aides are also available around the clock to help with any personal care tasks residents may require.

  • More Affordable

    Between Assisted living, nursing homes, and home care, assisted living tends to be the most affordable. In 2021, families paid an average of $4,500 a month for assisted living, putting it well below the cost of other options.

What is a Nursing Home?

In some ways, a nursing home is similar to an assisted living facility. Nursing homes provide a room, regular meals, and support with daily living tasks. However, nursing homes provide a higher level of medical care, as well as full-time monitoring by trained medical professionals. Because of the level of medical care required, nursing homes tend to cost much more than assisted living facilities.

Assisted Living vs Nursing Homes

The most noticeable difference between assisted living facilities and nursing homes is the level of emphasis placed on medical care. While assisted living facilities do offer some level of medical care, they do not have as many on-site medical professionals to respond to health issues. Instead, they balance independence, social wellness, and physical health.

By contrast, many of the residents in nursing homes have limited mobility or cognitive abilities, which means they spend much of their time in their rooms. This means they need a higher level of care.

As mentioned above, assisted living communities cost an average of $4,500 a month. By comparison, nursing homes cost an average of $9,034 for a private room.

If your parent suffers from limited mobility, finding the right wheelchair is crucial.

When to Move from Assisted Living to a Nursing Home

Generally speaking, it’s time to move from assisted living to a nursing home when the patient’s daily needs demand a higher level of medical care than the assisted living facility is able to provide. This can depend on the specific assisted living community, as well as the nursing home. Patients who need more complex medical treatment or those who have shown extensive cognitive decline are often candidates for nursing homes. Luckily, assisted living facilities are able to help families decide when to make the switch.

Benefits of Nursing Homes

As you can see, nursing homes offer a few key benefits over other elder care services. Take a look at some more benefits to see if a nursing home is right for your loved one.

  • Structure

    Nursing homes stick to regular schedules to ensure that their residents stay engaged and cared for at all hours of the day. Regular meals, medication, and social activities ensure that they stay connected. This can be especially beneficial to those suffering from memory loss or dementia.

  • High-Level Care

    While assisted living facilities have nurses and CNAs on-site to respond to medical issues, they generally offer a lower level of medical care. Nursing homes have a whole team onsite, made up of licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and nursing aids who can oversee a wider range of medical needs.

What is Home Care?

Home care is a bit different than the other two options, affording seniors personalized care in their very own homes rather than moving them to a nursing facility. Basically, a paid caregiving professional makes regular visits to their patient’s home, providing assistance with everyday tasks, as well as companionship and transportation.

How to Set Up Your Home for Safe Care

Just like with assisted living facilities and nursing homes, home care can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Though since the care is tailored to the needs of the individual, it can vary even more. Some home care services focus on minor daily living tasks and require the carer to visit their patient only an hour per day. Others require more constant supervision and help with a greater variety of tasks.

If your parent is receiving home care, it’s important to ensure every part of their environment is as safe as possible. Try some of these bathroom safety solutions.

Learn More About Outfitting a Bathroom for Safety

Assisted Living vs Home Care

What assisted living and home care have in common is that they can both vary widely in the level of care, helping patients with both minor and major needs. Either of them can be a good choice for seniors who need minimal help with tasks like housekeeping, doing laundry, and taking medications.

The key difference between the two is that home care allows the patient to enjoy the freedom and privacy of their own home, whereas assisted living invites them into a community. Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages. Generally, assisted living is better at providing social support, while home care allows for greater independence and privacy.

The other key difference is that assisted living communities can provide a higher level of medical care than home care. In the case of a medical emergency, a team of nurses is on-hand in assisted living communities. Still, for seniors with more serious medical needs, a nursing home is still the best option.

Benefits of Home Care

Home care offers a few unique benefits that make it distinct from nursing homes and assisted living communities. Look at its advantages and decide whether it's the right choice for the senior in your life:

  • Privacy

    In many cases, patients in senior living communities share a room. However, even if they don’t, they still spend much of their time surrounded by other people and don’t enjoy the same level of privacy as they would at home. While some older adults may prefer this level of social contact, it’s not a good fit for everyone. Home care allows seniors to get the support they need while staying in the environment they feel most comfortable in.

  • Companionship

    While home care doesn’t offer the same level of community as assisted living facilities, it still offers seniors a sense of companionship with their caregivers. In addition to the support they provide with day-to-day tasks, they can also provide companionship with activities like playing games, reading aloud, or chatting.

  • Customization

    The best thing about home care is that it offers the widest variety of care options of any of the three choices. Some people mainly hire home caregivers for a couple of hours each week to do laundry and similar tasks. On the other hand, you can hire a home nurse to take vitals, draw blood, administer medications, and perform other medical tasks. This offers a lot of flexibility, letting the caregiver respond to the needs of their patient.

    Bedroom safety is another key component of keeping a senior’s home safe.

Does My Parent Need Support?

It’s not always easy to know when it’s time to transition an aging parent to assisted living, a nursing home, or home care. However, knowing what signs to look for can help. Keep an eye out for these signs to know when it’s time:

  • Difficulty with Activities of Dailing Living (ADLS) such as eating, dressing, bathing, and using the toilet
  • Difficulty managing one’s own medication
  • Increased memory loss
  • Social isolation or loneliness
  • Increased risk of falls

Choosing to move your parent into the care of a caregiver is a difficult decision and should not be made lightly. Make sure to talk to them and consult with their doctor to know when the time is right.

Ways to Improve Your Memory as You Age

Which Option is Best for My Parent?

Now that you know a bit more about assisted living, nursing homes, and home care, understanding which option is best for your parent should be a little bit easier. Though if you’re still having trouble deciding, use this quick summary to help put you on the right track:

  • Assisted living is a good option for seniors who need help with their Activities of Daily Living but don’t need extensive medical support. It’s also good for those who could benefit from increased social contact with others of their own age.
  • A nursing home is the ideal choice for seniors who require a higher level of medical support, as it is the only option that offers a large team of medical professionals offering full-time care.
  • Home care is worth considering if your parent needs help with Activities of Daily Living but wants to retain as much privacy and independence as possible

Ultimately, it’s a personal decision and one that should be made in conjunction with your parent. If you need more help deciding, talk to a medical professional.

Choosing the Care That Fits You Best

At the end of the day, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to long-term care. Everything from the patient’s medical needs, budget, and social life should be taken into consideration when making the decision. By taking your time and choosing carefully, you can ensure that you or your parent find the most comfortable way to enjoy old age.

Jessica Hegg
Jessica Hegg

Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.

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