Pro Tip: If you’re looking to age in place and be prepared in the event of a fall, read our guide to medical alert systems with fall detection.
Differences Between Nursing Homes and Assisted Living
Assisted living facilities and nursing homes both provide senior living options, but the level of care, services provided, living environment, and cost vary between the two.
Assisted living solely provides assistance with nonmedical services meant to make older adults’ lives easier. The services can be as minimal as help with household chores, laundry, and meal preparation or as extensive as aiding with eating and toileting. Assisted living facilities do not, however, provide medical care. Residents who need to visit a doctor typically attend off-site appointments, but some assisted living communities have partnerships with medical providers who periodically visit the facility.
Nursing homes provide the highest level of care available outside a hospital, including both custodial and medical care. Patients routinely need round-the-clock supervision by nurses or licensed caregivers, and many need assistance with the activities of daily living, such as bathing and eating. Nursing homes — unlike assisted living communities — also provide medical care, so residents are evaluated by a physician on a regular basis. The physician then consults with on-site staff about the care for each individual. Residents also have access to on-site physical, speech, and occupational therapy, and some facilities provide dental care. Nursing homes are also required by federal law to have a registered dietician on staff.
Assisted living and nursing home costs vary based on location and amenities offered, and your personal cost is also affected by the level of care you or your loved one require. Nursing homes are more expensive than assisted living facilities by an average of approximately $4,000 per month, but you are more likely to receive financial aid to cover the cost of a nursing home.
The average price tag for a month at an assisted living facility in the United States is $4,300. For nursing homes, the average cost ranges from approximately $7,750 to $8,800 per month, depending on whether you select a semi-private or private room.
For the average American, the cost of assisted living and nursing home care may seem astronomical. Fortunately, there are many financial-assistance options that can minimize the bill for senior care.
Financial assistance for assisted living and nursing home care typically comes from the same sources. The portion of care covered and requirements for assistance vary, however, and funding for nursing care tends to be easier to secure than aid for assisted living.
In 41 states, older adults can receive financial assistance through Medicaid for the cost of custodial care in an assisted living facility. Medicaid may not cover the cost of assisted living room and board, however, depending on the state in which you live.
Medicaid is the most common form of financial assistance for assisted living care. To qualify, your monthly income may not exceed a threshold set by each state. Many people have too much income to qualify for Medicaid long-term-care benefits, but there’s still hope. Some states allow seniors to qualify for Medicaid by putting their extra monthly income in a trust.
If you qualify for Medicaid and a doctor has deemed nursing home care medically necessary, the program will cover most of your nursing home costs, including room and board. There are charges it won’t cover, however, including those unrelated to your medical care.
Pro Tip: Planning care for a loved one? Be sure to try our free care planning tool.
If a physician prescribes nursing home care following a major surgery, injury, or illness, Medicare will cover up to 100 days each benefit period. That includes 100% of the cost for the first 20 days and 80% of the price for Day 21 through Day 100.
Medicare will not cover assisted living, but some Medicare Advantage plans cover the cost of personal (custodial) care.
FYI: To learn more about Medicare and Medicaid, read our guide: Medicare vs. Medicaid.
Other Financial Assistance
Other common financial-assistance possibilities for both assisted living and nursing homes include veterans’ benefits; Social Security and state-funded senior programs; friends and family; and long-term care or life insurance policies.