You play a large role in decision-making as your parents age. Especially decisions about assisted living choices when in-home care is no longer an option.

Unpaid caregivers like family members or friends provide the majority of in-home care. On average, they spend 20 hours a week providing care. But many older adults require more support after the death of a partner, or when physical or mental health starts to decline.

Many families turn to long-term care at licensed facilities when a loved one needs more care than a part-time, in-home caregiver can provide. These facilities help prevent isolation and reduce risk of injuries or medical emergencies.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that 35 percent of people will use a nursing home for an average of one year. Thirteen percent will live in an assisted living facility for less than a year. A 65-year-old has almost a 70 percent chance of needing some kind of long-term care services in their lifetime.

Finding a proper home for a loved one — whether it be a parent or grandparent, aunt, or uncle — is an important milestone.

Having someone available to care for your loved one around the clock provides safety and support. However, your loved one will have to leave the comfort of their home and acknowledge that they need full-time support. This can be an emotional and difficult process.

It’s important to know what services and level of care each offers when choosing a nursing home or assisted living facility.

The Basics of Assisted Living Centers

Assisted living centers are also known as personal care homes and assisted care communities. They typically provide a less structured environment than a nursing home. Although, the level and type of care they provide can vary between facilities.

In assisted living, a person can live in their own apartment with common areas for meals, social activities, and exercise and wellness programs. Other assisted living services can include:

  • three daily meals
  • 24-hour security
  • round-the-clock nursing advice availability (may be partly telephonic)
  • housekeeping and laundry services
  • assistance with daily life tasks like eating, dressing, and bathing
  • medication management
  • transportation

Assisted living centers offer residents more independence than nursing homes, but they also provide fewer medical services.

Assisted living centers usually don’t give medical care on site. Yet, they often contract with outside health services to provide care to residents. Staff members respond to emergencies and take residents to scheduled medical check-ups and visits.

The Department of Social Services regulates assisted living centers. 

The Basics of Nursing Homes

Nursing homes are also known as convalescent care, skilled nursing, or long-term care facilities. Nursing homes provide the services assisted living centers do, as well as around-the-clock supervision and on-site nursing care. Some nursing homes offer a more neighborhood feel and allow couples to live together.

Of all the long-term care options, nursing homes are most like a hospital setting. Staff can provide medical care based on a person’s needs. This can even include physical or speech therapy. A nursing home may be the best option for loved ones with chronic health conditions or declining mental health. There are also nursing homes specifically for people with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

The Department of Health and Human Services regulates nursing homes.

The Cost of Nursing Homes vs. Assisted Living Centers

Most long-term care is paid out of pocket. Some states have programs to assist people who need care but are unable to pay for it themselves. Funding may be available through Section 202, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Costs for nursing homes and assisted living vary depending on factors like living quarters and required services. According to the HHS, the average cost for long-term care in the United States as of 2010 is listed below.

OptionCost Per Month
Nursing home, semi-private room$6,235
Nursing home, private room$6,965
Assisted living, one-bedroom unit$3,293

The Takeaway

It’s important to keep all these factors in mind when deciding what type of care your loved one needs. If they’re healthy but need some extra support with daily tasks, you may want to consider an assisted living center. If they have a condition that needs consistent monitoring, you may want to consider a nursing home.

If you can, talk to your loved one about these options. Involving them in the process and listening to their wants and needs is important. It may also help ease some of the discomfort of the decision-making process and an eventual transition.

Also make sure to talk with your loved one’s doctor and their current caregiver. They can give you insight into your loved one’s needs and other factors you should weigh when making a decision.