Assisted living homes and nursing homes are facilities that serve senior citizens who need care. The major difference is the amount and type of care each provides. In an assisted living home, an older adult has more independence than she has in a nursing home.
Assisted Living Facilities
Different names describe an assisted living facility in areas of the United States. Among other names are residential care, personal care, board and care, sheltered housing and adult homes.
The assisted living facility bridges the gap between independent living and nursing home care. A board and care resident might not be able to manage in his own home, but doesn't need constant care. For example, he might not be able to bathe himself or prepare meals. However, he might be able to use a bathroom without difficulty or get in and out of bed without help.
Less Government Oversight
Residential care has less government regulation and supervision than nursing homes. In most states Medicare does not pay for this level of care.
By law, an assisted living home must have 24-hour staffing and supportive services to help a resident manage to do what she is able to do. It must provide meals, housekeeping, laundry, recreation and transportation. One of its most important functions is to dispense medications.
Nursing homes, or long-term care facilities, are responsible for the health and safety of their residents. The American Health Care Association defines the goal of care in a nursing facility as helping "individuals meet their daily physical, social, medical and psychological needs" so they can return home whenever possible (http://www.longtermcareliving.com/pdf/nf_guide.pdf).
Nursing home residents typically cannot do many of the activities needed for daily independent living, including walking without assistance, getting down from a bed and into a chair, dressing or taking medicines as prescribed.
Level of Care
Some senior citizens lose their ability to manage independently because of a physical problem such as loss of eyesight or a problem like Alzheimer's disease. The decision about the proper place to get help should be based on what she can do and not just on what she cannot do. The goal should be to find the least restrictive setting for comfortable living with the maximum amount of independence possible. Of course, remaining at home is the best choice, but not always possible. An assisted living facility is less restrictive than a nursing home.
To find and compare nursing homes throughout the United States, see Medicare's nursing home site, http://www.medicare.gov/NHCompare/Include/DataSection/Questions/ProximitySearch.asp. A good source of information for finding assisted living facilities by state in the United States is the Assisted Living Source website, http://www.assistedlivingsource.com.