skilled nursing home vs assisted living

Skilled Nursing Home vs. Assisted Living: Which Do You Need?


As we age, we naturally require more assistance with daily activities than we did when we were younger. For some, this is as simple as a reminder to take medication, while others may need total daily care—but most people are somewhere between these extremes. But what level of service do you need?

Are you weighing your options between a skilled nursing home and assisted living? What’s the difference between the two, and which one is right for you?

Skilled Nursing Home vs. Assisted Living

Before you decide which type of facility to look into, it’s important to know the difference: skilled nursing and assisted living facilities may sound similar, but they actually offer two entirely different levels of care.

What is a Skilled Nursing Home?

A skilled nursing home is one that provides a high level of care and ancillary support services. The facility provides nursing care 24 hours a day. Usually, this includes at least one full-time registered nurse, a supervising doctor, and the ability to store and dispense medication, and staff members are available to provide all levels of personal care services.

Skilled nursing facilities often offer additional services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy. For this reason, this type of care is typically best for patients who need rehabilitation services, long term care for chronic or progressive conditions, or time to recover from a sudden onset of illness. Services are designed to provide you with complete support for the entirety of your stay.

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted living facilities are designed for residents who need some support with typical daily activities. They simply provide enough assistance to help you maintain your independence—which is where they get their name.

Assisted living facilities are not designed for people who have severe care needs; they are more appropriate for residents who need help with smaller tasks, such as medication reminders or help with housekeeping. This is a less intensive level of care than a skilled nursing facility. In fact, when residents can no longer benefit from the services in an assisted living facility, they often move to a skilled nursing home that has the resources to provide them with the appropriate level of care.

How Do You Decide Which Level of Care You Need?

There are distinct differences between these two levels of care, but that doesn’t necessarily make the decision simple. It’s not always easy to acknowledge—or even identify—what level of care you really need. So what do you do? Begin by asking yourself these questions.

Is This a Temporary Change in My Health Status?

There are many circumstances where you may need assistance for only a short period of time as you work toward being independent again. Examples include:

  • Surgery. Even surgeries that will result in overall health improvements, such as joint replacements, require lots of care before you can return to your precious functioning. Surgical recovery no longer happens in hospitals. Now, recovery typically occurs in a skilled nursing facility.
  • Illness. Recovering from sickness isn’t always an easy path; you may need quite a bit of support. However, if your needs are appropriately addressed, you are likely to regain your prior level of functioning, meaning that you won’t need long-term care.
  • Injury. While some injuries can cause permanent changes, others just need time to heal.

Skilled nursing homes provide you with the support you need to safely and securely recover from short-term problems such as these. Nursing staff is available to assist if you and physical and occupational therapy are available to continue your recovery process. On the other hand, assisted living is designed to be a permanent change, not a temporary support.

Is This a Large Change in My Abilities to Care for Myself?

Consider how big of a change this is for you.

If you’re experiencing a dramatic shift in your health status, a skilled nursing home may be the most appropriate solution. In situations such as experiencing a stroke, you need careful observation of your health during the recovery period. While you may be discharged from the hospital, you may need the care of skilled nurses to ensure you don’t experience a downturn in your health. As you strive for the best possible outcome, the skilled staff can provide you with essential support to regain your abilities and your independence. By having providers on hand in the skilled nursing facility, you are able to progress more efficiently to your goals.

Can I Care for Myself?

Assisted living is designed for those who need a bit of support in their daily lives. Assisted living facilities can provide medication reminders, meal preparation, and personal care assistance. This setting is designed to encourage the highest level of independence possible. You set your own schedule and pursue the interest you choose. If you’re still able to move about with ease, but you occasionally forget to take your daily medication or need help dressing, this might be a better option.

Choosing the Right Facility

Carefully evaluating your needs is the first step to choosing your ideal facility, but it’s not the only factor you should consider. If you’re thinking about a stay at a nursing home, it’s important that you choose one that fits your needs. Knowing what to ask when you tour a nursing facility will make it easier to learn whether it’s the right place for you.

Download your free nursing home checklist. It will help you compile all of the questions you should ask on your next nursing home tour to ensure you get the best care possible.

nursing home evaluation checklist