Senior Living Communities and Nursing Homes Key Differences

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Nursing homes and senior living communities are different. This isn’t widely understood. Some people know they’re different but may have trouble saying how.  

To clear up this confusion, here’s a summary of some of the most significant ways in which nursing homes and senior living communities differ. 

The level of care provided 

In general, nursing homes, or skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), are a medical setting and are intended for individuals that have a condition or disability requiring medical care. According to, over 80% of nursing home residents need help with 3 or more activities of daily living, such as dressing or bathing. In nursing homes, there’s around-the-clock monitoring and nursing.   

Senior living communities are a residential setting. Residents might only need a few minutes of hands-on support each day. There isn’t the same need for 24/7 care.  

Healthcare services at nursing homes may include things like wound care, IV therapy, orthopedic care, as well as physical, occupational and speech therapy. Senior living communities don’t offer these healthcare services.  

Does this mean nursing homes are better than senior living communities? Not really. 

Nursing homes may be a good fit for someone if they need 24/7 nursing care, but if they don’t need that level of care, senior living communities may be a much better option. That’s because there are other factors to consider. 

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Living space 

Most senior living community residents live in their own private apartments which they can furnish and decorate themselves. The living space in a nursing home is much smaller, usually a single room (which may even be shared). There isn’t the same level of privacy.  


Senior living communities are sometimes described as cruise ships on land. That’s because a lot of emphasis is put on active living. Senior living community residents can take advantage of programmed activities like social programs, exercise classes, or outings. That’s not to say that these sorts of recreational programs are absent from nursing homes. However, they tend to look a lot different because of the greater level of disability of most nursing home residents. 

Finding the right nursing home or senior living community 

One good place to look for nursing homes is There you’ll find a searchable database of nursing homes in the US along with a rating for each home based on health inspections, staffing, and quality measures. 

If you’re interested in exploring senior living communities as an option, check out our free Senior Living Options Guide.  

download your senior living options guide

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