Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes: What’s the Difference?

Not long ago seniors and the elderly, if unable to remain living at home, would have to “retire” to a nursing home. Everyone from the very vital and alert to the very infirm or ill might be living in close quarters. In recent years, nursing homes in general have earned a bad reputation. Many—not all– have struggled financially and made poor hiring decisions.

Assisted Living

As Americans live longer and more vital lives, the need for alternative living situations has grown. Assisted living residences and communities are one very popular alternative to nursing homes. What features make them so different?

Chronic vs. Long-Term “Assisted” Care

People with chronic and serious health conditions, confined to bed, and requiring intensive nursing care may receive this care in a nursing home. Assisted living serves the needs of people with health and living challenges, but nothing chronic or intensive. For example, they may have early stage Alzheimer’s, or need help monitoring their medication and health care, help preparing meals, transportation to the grocery story, among other things. This is sometimes called, long-term assisted care.

Nursing homes support intensive, round-the-clock nursing care. Assisted living provides nursing care, but it is non-intensive and typically not round-the-clock. This is not say that residents in an assisted living community are not supported 24/7…many of these establishments have built-in monitoring systems where residents can call for emergency help and assistance as soon as it’s needed and onsite nurses and emergency response personnel will respond.

Assisted Living Lifestyle: Independent Senior Living

Assisted living environments have become popular and sensible alternatives to nursing homes and now enable millions of older Americans to continue semi-independent living within a supervised community. Some assisted living communities allow residents to live in their own “homes” or apartments, drive and come and go at their leisure, and otherwise conduct their lives as normally as possible.

Assisted living communities usually have a wide variety of services and activities available to residents, including:

  • Community dining/meal options
  • Onsite health clinics where outside doctors and specialists regularly see patients
  • 24/7 monitoring
  • Housekeeping/maid services
  • Transportation options on and offsite
  • Events planning
  • Exercise and wellness programs
  • Clubs and community groups
  • Community gatherings
  • Family support services

To make an assisted living community “tick,” most employ a wide range of professionals: nursing administrators, nurse practitioners, accountants and business executives, exercise and wellness specialists, physical and occupational therapists, chefs, nutritionists, and groundskeepers.

Nursing Homes Improve

We’ve seen the videos on the evening news showcasing nursing home employees abusing and ignoring patients. We’ve heard the financial bad news that many nursing homes are going bankrupt. Yes, many are struggling to find a place in today’s health care environment. But it’s important to remember that not all are bad places to put loved ones and many are carving out new niches for themselves.

One improvement many are turning to is renovating and adding additional services. Physical therapy and occupational therapy services are adding big value to nursing homes. Services like these serve to rehabilitate patients, with the ultimate goal to move them out of nursing homes, quicker. In the end, facility expenses are lowered while patient satisfaction and quality of life is heightened.

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