7 Key Differences Between Assisted Living vs Skilled Nursing

There may be a time when your aging parent or grandparent no longer can take care of themselves. When that time comes, you may want to consider an appropriate senior option outside the home. There are many types of senior communities with different fee structures, benefits, and levels of care. Searching for the right senior community can be confusing and discouraging. In this article we want to help explain the differences between assisted living vs skilled nursing facilities. It is important to know the difference between assisted living and skilled nursing so your loved one receives the best care possible.


The Difference Between Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing

Although these are two of the most well-known communities, not a lot of people know the difference between assisted living vs skilled nursing. We want to help you determine which type of senior care is best for your loved one. Here are seven key differences between assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.

Level of Care Offered

The goal of senior care communities is to help seniors maintain the best quality of life. The main difference between assisted living and skilled nursing boil down to the type of facility and the level of care offered.

For example, if your loved one is in need of:

  • Daily therapy
  • Artificial respirations, or
  • IV medication

Their needs will most likely be met by a skilled nursing facility.

If your loved one does not need constant medical attention, an assisted living facility may be the right choice. Assisted living residents only require periodic assistance such as:

  • Activities of daily living (bathing, eating, dressing)
  • Mental health (depression or isolation)
  • Social support
  • Medication management
  • Financial management

It is best to also ask for opinions from your loved one’s medical team since they know exactly the extent of care your loved one needs and understand the differences between assisted living vs skilled nursing.

Goal of Each Type of Business

The goal of skilled nursing facilities generally is to stabilize and improve the senior so they can eventually return to living independently or move to another long-term care environment. It may also be a place where people go who are on their last legs. One way or another, the senior’s stay normally will only be temporary.

Your elderly loved one’s stay in an assisted living facility may not be short-lived.  Many assisted living homes want you to stay in their home for the long term. The official goal of assisted living is to give seniors the independence they need while helping them accomplish day-to-day tasks. The unspoken goal is to keep the same residents in their home as long as they possibly can.

At A Paradise for Parents, we want to improve the quality of life for our residents to the point they can go back home. Most people don’t want to be in either Skilled Nursing or Assisted Living. Our trainer, nutritionist, and caregivers are working towards that goal. For more information on avoiding both assisted living and skilled nursing, check out this blog post.

One scenario isn’t better or worse than the other; both facilities are necessary depending on the need of your loved one.

One of the many perks in assisted living is that they provide residents with a schedule of activities to keep them entertained. Many skilled nursing facilities also offer opportunities for socialization, but won’t have the activity schedule of assisted living. Since residents in skilled nursing need 24 hour medical care, they generally cannot participate in a host of activities.

Staff Availability in Assisted Living vs Skilled Nursing

Each skilled nursing facility should have at least one registered nurse on site for eight hours per day, seven days a week. Assisted living facilities, on the other hand, should have a licensed practical nurse and/or registered nurse on-call. The law doesn’t require nurses to physically be in the assisted living facility at all times. Therefore, if your elderly loved one regularly needs medical attention, a skilled nursing facility may be your best choice.

You have to be honest in assessing the needs of your elderly loved one. For instance, you wouldn’t want to choose assisted living and quickly find out they need skilled nursing. This may inevitably happen due to a sudden change in medical needs. Until then, assessing your loved one’s current and future needs will save both parties from an expensive and frustrating move.


Length of Stay in Assisted Living vs Skilled Nursing

As mentioned, skilled nursing is needed when your elderly loved one is recuperating from a disease or when the senior’s health suddenly declines. Seniors may stay in skilled nursing facilities temporarily before moving to independent living or even assisted living for the longer term.

Assisted living, on the other hand, is a long-term senior care community where residents are able to enjoy a normal, independent life while having all the help they need when challenging day-to-day tasks arise.

Level of Independence

Since skilled nursing facilities help seniors recover following a hospitalization or health decline, they offer constant medical care. Which is why the seniors in skilled nursing may not have much independence.

On the contrary, assisted living residents get all the freedom they want since they don’t need constant medical attention. Most residents have total control over their schedule and they get to decide when and how often they need assistance. You can see some of the activities we offer our residents at A Paradise for Parents homes here. While they have scheduled activities, assisted living facilities merely encourage seniors to participate – not force them to. Additionally, most assisted living facilities have transportation services that seniors can use when they please.

If given the choice, most seniors would prefer assisted living facilities over skilled nursing because of the perks and the independence. But then again, it all depends on the level of care the senior needs.

Insurance Coverage and Other Payment Options

Since skilled nursing facilities mainly focus on medical care, seniors are able to use Medicare and/or Medicaid programs. But your loved one won’t be able to use their health insurance and Medicare programs to pay for assisted living.

While there are long-term care insurance policies that help pay for assisted living, most of the costs incurred are mostly paid by the senior. To know more about your payment options, it is best to talk to your local elder law attorney for more information.



Due to the round-the-clock medical care and attention, a big difference in assisted living and skilled nursing is the cost. An assisted living facility generally costs thousands of dollars less than skilled nursing facilities. Assisted living costs can really add up, however, if the resident stays a long time. Over a longer period, assisted living costs may exceed shorter skilled nursing stays.

There are numerous options to help the senior minimize the cost of assisted living, such as Medicaid, Veteran’s Benefits or long-term care insurance. Although the cost of either skilled nursing or assisted living is a huge factor, it should not hinder your loved one from receiving the care he/she needs.

If you want to know more about assisted living facilities, A Paradise for Parents staff and our resources can answer all your questions. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at (623) 295-9890 or email us at cam@aparadiseforparents.com to know more about the services we offer. You can also fill out an online form located on our homepage. We’d be happy to assist you in your search for an assisted living facility for your loved one.

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Picture of From Pilot to Paradise: Meet Hal Cranmer!

From Pilot to Paradise: Meet Hal Cranmer!

Mr. Cranmer went from Air Force Special Operations Pilot to Airline Pilot to running a multimillion dollar manufacturing plant after 9/11 ended his flying career. Now he is bringing his business expertise to his true passion - taking care of seniors in his 'A Paradise for Parents' assisted living homes in Surprise and Goodyear, AZ. Read Hal's crazy career story, 'From Air Force Pilot to Assisted Living Owner'. Click the button to send Hal a message!

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