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

Long Island Elder Law and Estate Planning Lawyers

Understanding the difference between assisted living and nursing homes is key to determining the right choice for an aging loved one.
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Assisted living facilities and nursing homes are long-term housing and care options for older adults. Although people sometimes use the terms assisted living and nursing home synonymously, they are distinct.

Understanding the differences between assisted living and nursing homes is critical for those considering where to live as they age. This is because assisted living communities and nursing homes provide different types of care. While assisted living is appropriate for active older adults who need support with everyday tasks, nursing homes provide medical care to adults with significant health issues.

What Is Assisted Living?

Older adults who can no longer live on their own but do not require round-the-clock medical care can benefit from assisted living. While assisted living facilities can have nurses on staff, the primary focus is not on health care, but rather on supporting residents with daily life.

Activities of daily living (ADLs) are basic activities that healthy individuals can carry out on their own on a daily basis. Depending on an individual resident’s needs, an assisted living facility can provide aid with showering, dressing, preparing meals, completing household chores, and taking medication on time at the correct dose.

While giving necessary support, assisted living communities maximize adults’ independence and autonomy. Residents typically live in private units similar to traditional apartments with kitchens that are part of larger communities offering opportunities to socialize with fellow residents. Units can have safety features tailored to older adults with mobility challenges, such as shower bars, widened doorways, safety rails, and enhanced lighting. Some offer specialized memory care options for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Difference Between Assisted Living and Nursing Home

Compared to assisted living, nursing homes may be the right fit for those with significant medical conditions requiring round-the-clock care. Nursing homes can offer more extensive health care services that are unavailable in many assisted living facilities. Therefore, nursing homes can be more appropriate for those with severe health needs.

As they provide critical medical support, nursing homes can help people with mobility complications or cognitive challenges that limit their autonomy. For instance, a person diagnosed with severe dementia might do better in a nursing home than in an assisted living facility. Nursing home staff can also provide medical care and supervision as well as help with activities of daily living.

Living in a Nursing Home

Like assisted living facilities, nursing homes also offer help with daily living, such as bathing or help with medication management, and can adapt to individuals’ needs. For instance, showers and bathtubs may have safety bars, and doors may be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

Yet nursing homes offer residents less freedom and independence than assisted living communities. Those receiving care typically do not have their own kitchens and may share a room with another patient.

What Is the Cost of a Nursing Home vs. Assisted Living?

Assisted living facilities and nursing homes can constitute a significant expense for residents and their families.

The New York State Department of Health estimated that the average annual cost for a Long Island nursing home is $169,632 (2023 figure). Assisted living facilities are typically less, but their cost varies widely depending on the level of care needed.

Without some sort of financial assistance, these costs could be financially devastating. In fact, someone’s entire life savings could be quickly depleted within a few years of needing long-term care. This is where Medicaid can help and be the “safety net”.

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program which can assist those with long-term care expenses. While Medicare provides very limited coverage, Medicaid is much more extensive. However, because of its restrictions, qualifying for Medicaid can be extremely difficult. But paying for home care, assisted living, and nursing home without it could be all but impossible.

Even those with assets may qualify for Medicaid with proper planning. Seek appropriate counsel before you apply for and seek to qualify for Medicaid. We can give you – and your family – peace of mind during a difficult and uncertain time. When dealing with Medicaid, legal advice is something you cannot afford to go without. Contact us today to schedule a Medicaid consultation.

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