Residential Care Vs. Nursing Home

iComstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The big difference between residential care and nursing care is the level of assistance offered. If you just need a little help getting dressed or you aren’t strong enough for daily housekeeping and meal preparation, residential care handles all of that for you. If you need active medical care, however, nursing care provides constant medical supervision.

Residential Care

Residential care facilities provide accommodations, food and basic personal care for seniors who can no longer live by themselves. These assisted living facilities often provide an apartment-style setting so you can still have an active life, even if you require assistance getting dressed, walking or eating. According to California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, these facilities aren’t required to have doctors or nurses on staff, although they will usually store and dispense their residents’ medication.

Nursing Care

Nursing care facilities provide room, board and care for patients who aren’t able to live on their own or in an assisted living facility due to serious debilitation or a medical condition. Also called nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities, they offer full-time medical staff that can also help you with physical or cognitive therapy. Some nursing care facilities are set up like a hospital, while others are more like dorms or apartment buildings. Each nursing home sets its own policies in terms of visiting hours, roommates and level of patient autonomy, says the National Institute on Aging.


Both options are expensive. According to the American Health Care Association National Center for Assisted Living, a year in a nursing care facility can cost $50,000 or more. Residential care costs a little less, they estimate—about $24,000 per year. This figure will vary based on where you live and how much care you require. Medicare and health insurance don’t always cover the cost of nursing care or residential care.

Choosing a Care Facility

The state of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services offers the following tips for choosing the right facility. First, make sure the facility has a state license and accepts Medicare and Medicaid. Read the latest inspection report to make sure no serious problems were found. Ask whether an ombudsman—an advocate for residents of long-term care facilities—visits regularly to listen to any resident’s grievances or problems. Lastly, chat with the residents themselves and get a feel for how well they’re treated and whether they like the facility’s staff and overall atmosphere.

Other Options

Not all senior care options require you to leave your home permanently. Medicare’s Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home urges all seniors to consider community services or in-home nursing care. Community programs including adult day care, Meals on Wheels, and senior centers that offer help with food, shopping and bill-paying, plus they offer socialization and group activities. In-home care brings a nurse or other attendant into your home on a part-time or live-in basis. Depending on your needs, your live-in caretaker might handle things like grocery shopping, food preparation and housework.