Skilled Nursing vs Assisted Living: What to Know

Aging can be scary because of its uncertainty. You don’t know what your long-term health will be like, how it might affect your ability to live the life you want, or how it might affect the people you love most. Uncertainty doesn’t have to be scary, though. It can also be exciting. The next chapter of your life offers a chance to learn new skills, nurture lasting friendships, and grow fully into yourself — without the constraints of working or raising a family. Finding a senior living community where you feel safe and confident that your needs can be met can ease your anxiety about the future and make your retirement as joyful as you deserve it to be. You may wonder whether skilled nursing or assisted living is right for you. Here’s how to make the decision.

Skilled Nursing vs. Assisted Living: What’s the Difference?

Skilled nursing offers ongoing care to seniors with chronic, significant medical needs for which they need nursing care. A person might choose skilled nursing if:

  • They need daily IV medication, such as morphine for pain.
  • They are in hospice care.
  • They need rehabilitation from an injury, such as a broken hip.
  • They are in the late stages of a severe disease such as cirrhosis or HIV/AIDS and need daily intensive medical care.

Most seniors with chronic health issues can get the help they need in assisted living. In assisted living, you get help with daily activities such as eating, bathing, and medication management. Some assisted living communities also partner with home health agencies to provide nursing care for people who need help with injectable medication or complex medical needs. You might choose assisted living if:

  • You have a mobility impairment.
  • You have a chronic or progressive illness.
  • You have mild to moderate dementia and need help with daily activities.

Assisted living, in addition to helping with daily care, offers a wide range of activities that keep your mind and body active. This makes it an ideal choice for seniors who want to live out a deeply connected retirement that offers the chance to learn new skills and embrace new interests. Assisted living can also be a good option when two spouses need different levels of care.

For a more detailed explanation of what assisted living is, read our What is Assisted Living guide.

Which Choice Is Right for Me?

For most people, assisted living offers a more enriching life, with more freedom to live on your own terms. So if you don’t need daily complex medical care, assisted living is usually the better option.

Consider skilled nursing if: 

  • You need temporary rehabilitation for a serious injury.
  • You have significant medical needs that require nursing care but do not want to stay in a hospital setting.
  • You need injectable medication from an IV, such as morphine.
  • You are transitioning to hospice care.

Note that in many of these situations, an assisted living community may still be able to help — often by partnering with home health or hospice.

Choosing an Exceptional Senior Living Community

If you’re considering a transition to senior living, the first thing to consider is what you need. Your emotional and relationships needs matter just as much as your health; indeed, good emotional health is key to good physical health. Loneliness kills. You deserve to spend your retirement in a place that makes you feel alive, vibrant, and happy. Some questions that can help you identify that place include:

  • What activities are most important to me?
  • Which things do I need help with?
  • What does my ideal living arrangement look like?
  • Do I need help with medical issues? And if so, can I get that help in assisted living?
  • Where do I want to live? Which geographic location offers the best resources and the most access to loved ones?

The Arbor Company has proudly served seniors and the people who love them for more than 30 years. We believe that aging should be an adventure, not something to fear. We can help you choose the right community for your needs. To learn more, download our free guide, “Finding a Safe and Comfortable Senior Living Community.”

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