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What’s the Difference Between Assisted Living and a Nursing Home?

As older adults continue to age, it’s not uncommon for them to require additional support and care with daily tasks. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, roughly 70 percent of individuals ages 65 and older will need some type of long-term care services in their later years. At some point throughout the aging process, many seniors and their families need to consider which type of long-term care meets their needs the best. For many, the decision is often between assisted living and a nursing home facility. The most common question among many seniors and their families is, what’s the difference between assisted living and a nursing home?

When it comes to residential and long-term care, assisted living and nursing care are often used interchangeably. However, these facilities offer different services and levels of care. Assisted living offers help with activities of daily living such as cooking, medication management, housekeeping, and bathing while skilled care offers a higher level of medical attention. Nursing also helps those who are non-ambulatory, have fractures and wounds that do not heal, or experience many long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and congestive heart failure. As you or your loved one consider which type of long-term care is the right fit, it’s important to learn about the offerings and benefits of both assisted living and nursing care.

What is Assisted Living?

The American Health Care Association reports that there are more than 800,000 Americans residing in assisted living communities, more than half of whom are 85 years or older.  Typical assisted living communities offer 24-hour on-site staffing, an on-site resident nurse or health clinic, housekeeping and maintenance, assistance with bathing and dressing, laundry service, exercise and wellness programs, assistance with transportation and nutritional meals, and dining services. Assisted living communities help residents maintain their independence, even with chronic conditions, some memory loss, or mobility issues.

Some assisted living facilities may offer a wing or floor that offers specialized care for those with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of dementia. They typically offer spacious private apartments and shared common spaces such as dining and activity rooms, a library, a pool, and a wide variety of activities. Many focus on creating environments that feel home-like and are community-oriented, typically ranging in size from 25 to 120 residents.

When to Consider Assisted Living

Some older adults consider assisted living as a way to downsize while others see it as an opportunity to maintain their independence while also receiving the care they need. As you or your loved one decide which type of long-term care best suits your needs, some common signs assisted living may be the right fit: 

  • Worsening medical conditions. If your loved one is falling consistently or often and becoming injured as a result, assisted living could provide a safer environment. In addition, many older adults are managing one or more chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s disease, which can also impact one’s ability to live independently. 
  • Trouble managing finances. Many aging seniors have difficulty with managing their financial responsibilities such as paying bills on time or falling victim to financial scams. If you notice your loved one is ignoring unpaid bills or making unusual purchases, it may be a sign that something else is going on with their health.
  • Isolation and loneliness. Senior isolation can tremendously impact one’s emotional and physical health. When seniors begin to withdraw from social interactions it can increase the risk of depression, addiction, and mortality. In addition, social withdrawal can increase the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
  • Poor hygiene. Whether your loved one has mobility issues or simply can’t remember to bathe consistently, they may need the assistance that is provided with assisted living communities. Messy grooming habits can be a sign that your loved one is having difficulty taking care of themselves or something more serious.

What is a Nursing Home?

Many older adults turn to nursing homes when they need consistent medical care and round-the-clock support. Nursing homes provide long-term residential care for those suffering from terminal illnesses and other chronic conditions. Nursing homes will most often offer skilled nursing services, which provide broader medical services for those with more acute needs such as Alzheimer’s disease. While many individuals use nursing home and skilled nursing interchangeably, they are two different services. Typically, nursing homes provide custodial care such as assistance with bathing, eating, dressing, toileting, in addition to medication management, mobility, transportation, rehabilitation, 24-hour care, and social and recreational activities.

Some people may only require nursing home support for a short period, especially when recovering from a hospital stay or after a stroke. Nursing homes offer rehabilitation services such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy which are often needed by those who have suffered a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or who have undergone joint replacement surgeries.

When to Move to a Nursing Home

At some point in the aging process, a senior may have to make the move from assisted living to nursing care. This decision is often a difficult one as it signifies a loss of independence for most people. However, seniors and families should be aware of the signs that indicate it may be time for the next level of care to ensure proper treatment and comfort:

  • Terminal and chronic illnesses
  • Worsening emotional disorders, such as depression and anxiety, that accompany an illness
  • Multiple chronic conditions
  • Increases in falling, broken bones, and sprains
  • Trouble managing money
  • Declining cognitive function such as increased memory loss, confusion, and being disoriented

Learn More About Assisted Living and Nursing Care at Maplewood Senior Living

Our Maplewood Senior Living communities offer a wide variety of care options for seniors. Our staff can help you navigate the transition process as you discern which level of care best suits your needs. Our long-term care options provide those living with chronic conditions or prolonged illness the care they need to make the most of each day. Our assisted living option allows residents to live more independently by providing assistance based on individual needs and goals. To learn more about these offerings, please contact us.


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475-259-3252

1 Gorham Island Rd

Westport, CT 06880


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