Assisted Living vs. Skilled Nursing Facilities

Looking for senior living options for your loved ones but unsure whether to choose an assisted living community or skilled nursing facility? It can become challenging as you, or a parent, grow older to do all the daily activities that once seemed trouble-free. Does your aging spouse or parent require medical care or assistance with activities of daily living? Transitioning from independent living to a residential community with senior care can be the best choice to improve a senior’s quality of life. 

What’s the Difference Between Skilled Nursing vs. Assisted Living?

The main difference between the skilled nursing assisted living and skilled nursing facilities is that assisted living facilities primarily provide assistance with personal / custodial care, activities of daily living, and limited medical care while skilled nursing facilities additionally provide 24 hours specialized medical care for elderly patients and have more medical professionals on staff. Typically a skilled nursing facility is intended to provide individuals with skilled nursing care for shorter durations – often after an injury or surgery. More on what is assisted living.

Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs)

Assisted living facilities are residences for seniors who need assistance with their daily routine activities but do not need extensive medical care. Medical services are available when needed, though specialized and more intensive care may be brought in from external services. 

Senior citizens living in assisted living facilities have the independence, freedom, and choice to live as they please. They have access to help when it comes to eating, bathing, mobility, dressing, continence, toileting, (often referred to as activities of daily living or personal care services) and taking their medication.

Related: How to Pay for Assisted Living

When is Assisted Living the Right Choice? 

Assisted living is often the right choice when simple tasks turn into struggles or if you or a loved one is occasionally forgetting medications. Not only will you have professional care around the clock, but also you do not have to worry about cooking, cleaning, transportation, or feeling alone. 

 You can spend time with people around your age socially participating in activities that will keep you entertained. Assisted living facilities allow you to enjoy your independence with just the right amount of assistance. 

Additionally, many seniors consider moving into an assisted living or senior living community before this point in order to reduce their household chores, participate in recreational activities, take advantage of support services, and use transportation services that are often provided by assisted living communities. Two of the biggest benefits of senior living facilities is the ability to grow socially and reduced household work – moving into assisted living early allows you or your loved ones to enjoy these benefits and graduate their level of care as they continue to age. 

Related: Cost of Assisted Living Facilities

Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs)

In general, skilled nursing facilities focus on providing a higher level of care for a short period of time. Often residents will be referred to skilled nursing home care after receiving treatment from a licensed medical practitioner at a hospital for moderate to severe health problems like suffering a stroke or fall. Skilled nursing facilities are largely rehabilitation facilities focused on transitioning a senior back to a long-term care facility like assisted living or a nursing home. 

Along with the assistance of daily routine activities, patients will also receive around-the-clock nursing care from registered nurses or other certified specialists as they recover from an injury or health condition. 

When is a Skilled Nursing Facility the Right Choice? 

Skilled nursing facilities provide physical therapy, occupational therapy, specialized individualistic therapy, and speech therapy. A skilled nursing facility is the right choice for when you or your loved one requires intensive medical care to heal from an injury and help with daily activities. 

Is a Skilled Nursing Facility the Same as a Nursing Home?

The main difference between skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes depends on the length of stay and medical treatment. 

 A skilled nursing facility does not typically provide long-term care for patients. They provide temporary, transitional care such as rehabilitation care and specified medical needs by professional medical practitioners before returning to their home, assisted living facility. For seniors that require a higher level of ongoing medical assistance, transitioning from skilled nursing to a nursing home may be a better fit than going back home or to assisted living.

Related: Understanding Skilled Nursing vs Nursing Homes

A nursing home serves patients who require permanent custodial care and significant medical care under the supervision of a registered nurse or other care specialist. An elderly person having chronic conditions and behavioral, medical, or cognitive issues can seek long-term residential care at a nursing home. 

Related: Is Assisted Living the Same as a Nursing Home

Assisted Living vs. Skilled Nursing

Even though assisted living and skilled nursing only differ based on medical care, we will break it down further so that you can decide on a living option that best suits your needs. Below we have mentioned how assisted living and skilled nursing differ in regards to:

Level of Care Provided

Assisted Living CommunitySkilled Nursing Facility
Length of stayAverage length of stay in an assisted living community remains about 28 monthsAverage length of stay in skilled nursing facilities falls between 28-38 days
Goal of residencyMaintain independence with assisted care with only some activities of daily livingTo provide undivided round-the-clock medical supervision by licensed medical practitioners along with help with activities of daily living (ADLs)
Level of independence – High
– The elderly can live in their own apartments and socialize in shared common areas
– Lower level of independence due to an illness, injury, or a chronic condition
– They live in a private room or shared room with little privacy but more access to frequent medical care
Level of care providedLow intensity medical careMedication managementAssistance with activities of daily living (ADLs)High intensity medical careMedication managementAssistance with activities of daily living (ADLs)
Staffing and Specialty Care– Staffed by registered resident nurse(s)
– Typically not staffed for specialty care
– Some facilities may provide dementia / memory loss / memory care support
– Availability for 24/7 medical care and attention
– Often will have registered nurses and specialists as staff members
– Often will provide wound care, memory care, palliative care
Facility characteristics– Often setup with apartment or dormitory style residences
– They have access to housekeeping, laundry services, medication management, personal care services
– Often setup with apartment or dormitory style residences
– Shared and private room optionsSkilled nursing facilities have a clinical setting
– They focus more on medical and personal care for a patient who remains in recovery and under rehabilitation care
Medicare coverageNoUp to 100 days as long as it is a medicare certified facility
Medicaid coverageUsually – depends on the state thoughUsually – depends on the state though
CostAverage cost of living in an assisted living facility could cost you $4,300 per monthThe typical cost of living in a skilled nursing facility run from $6,844 to $7,700 per month


Is a Skilled Nursing Facility the Same as an Assisted Living Facility?

Assisted living facilities assist their residents with activities of daily living (ADLs) while they can manage most activities by themselves. A skilled nursing facility provides constant medical and nursing care to their patients and takes care of their activities of daily living (ADLs).

Is Assisted Living Better than a Nursing Home?

Nursing homes prove a better choice when an older person requires permanent medical and custodial care or has a sever chronic illness. An elderly person living at an assisted living facility can relatively do most activities by themselves; they have good health and only need help with some daily activities.

What Is Considered a Skilled Nursing Need?

A skilled nursing need represents a patient’s requirement for treatment and care performed by licensed nursing personnel. The patient in a skilled nursing facility has access to a trained doctor or nurse 24-hours, specific to their medical condition.

Does Long-term Care Insurance Cover Assisted Living?

Yes, long-term care insurance typically covers assisted living costs (or a portion of them); long-term insurance plans typically cost $2,000 – $9,000 per year.


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