Senior Living Communities and Nursing Homes: What Are the Differences?

Thanks to all the various names used for senior living options over the past century, it’s often difficult to sort out what’s what. For many years “nursing homes” were the only place for older adults to live when they needed help and/or medical care. Today, however, senior living communities provide a range of lifestyles from Independent Living to Assisted Living to Memory Care, as well as Skilled Nursing in some cases. Even though many people still lump all senior living choices under the “nursing home” umbrella, it’s important to understand how truly different they are.

Assistance with living versus medical care

Nursing homes are now considered the best option for people who require ongoing help with medical care provided by licensed nurses and therapists. These can be for short-term stays such as when recovering from a debilitating injury or illness when patients stay only long enough to get back on their feet or for end-of-life care. When someone cannot care for themselves at all, they may stay longer according to the article, “Nursing Homes” which notes that approximately half of residents remain for a year and more than 20% for almost five years.

In general, unlike nursing homes, senior living communities do not provide medical care, with the possible exception of visiting therapists or other specialists like podiatrists. Instead, senior living communities are more like resort neighborhoods where seniors can live safely but do not require ongoing on-site medical care. For example, Assisted Living care is more oriented toward help with daily tasks like dressing and bathing, and medication management. Similarly, Memory Care offers daily assistance with the added benefit of additional security for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

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Lifestyle differences

Senior living communities are just that — communities. Almost like small towns, senior living communities strive to provide a lifestyle that is active and carefree, one that emphasizes independence for all residents. For example, amenities might include exercise classes, workshops, arts and crafts, and social events, as well as community spaces like computer rooms, libraries, movie theaters, and outdoor areas for all to enjoy.

In addition, residents of senior living communities have their own private home that, depending on the amount of assistance and security required, may include stand-alone cottages or apartments where residents can enjoy their privacy with the knowledge that everything they need is close by.

Nursing homes also may have amenities, but they are designed for less independent residents who need constant oversight of a custodial and/or medical nature. For those who are recuperating or convalescing in a nursing home, the emphasis is on getting better and they are mainly involved in therapeutic activities so they can get back to their lives as quickly as possible. In addition, many nursing homes do not have individual apartments, rather private or semi-private rooms are the norm. Take a look at what to expect in a senior living community like Thrive in our blog, “Boredom Busters: Top Amenities to Expect from Today’s Senior Living Communities.

Different dining expectations

Today’s senior living communities have come a long way in their culinary offerings with many providing formal, fine dining with chef-prepared meals that are not only nutritious, but delicious and diverse. Residents of senior living communities often have additional dining options like bistros or cafés where they can enjoy coffee and a snack with friends or wind down at happy hour. Meals can also be prepared specifically for residents with special dietary needs.

Due to the more medical nature of nursing homes, meals are not normally prepared by chefs but are planned to meet the needs of patients with a variety of health and nutrition needs, not unlike hospitals. While nursing homes do provide dining rooms, it is not uncommon for meals to be delivered to residents who are bed-ridden or otherwise unable to leave their rooms. Nursing home staff are also called upon to help incapacitated patients eat so that they get all the nutrition they need.

Older adults have better senior living options than ever before and at Thrive Senior Living our communities are among the best! For more about choosing the right senior living community, download our Family Decision Guide. Learn more about Thrive’s communities, housing choices and amenities by contacting us today!

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