Retirement Home vs. Nursing Home: What’s the Difference?

The word “home” is supposed to give you a heartwarming feeling, but it can also raise some confusion among older adults and retirees. The stigma of senior homes is so strong that people sometimes assume that retirement and nursing homes are the same. Let’s learn more about them to find out the differences, and also, determine which is best.

What is the difference between a retirement home and a nursing home? The goal of retirement homes is to give older adults independence, recreational activities, places for socialization, and enough medical facilities in the area. On the other hand, nursing homes are for ill seniors who need regular attention.

Comparing retirement homes and nursing homes isn’t easy. They each have their pros and cons that could overlap due to similarities. Knowing their differences is much easier if you understand how they work individually.

Retirement Home

Retirement Homes

Commonly referred to as assisted living or old age homes, retirement homes are private facilities built explicitly for retirees. They aim to give a chance for seniors to live their normal lives without risking their health and safety by offering care and support services on standby.

Retirees living in retirement homes can stay there for years. They remain independent even while undergoing treatment, therapy, or recovery.

There are numerous types of assisted living homes. They exist for various lifestyles, preferences, and economic classes.

  • Retirement Communities: For seniors who can afford to live in townhouses, condominiums, apartments, and other similar structures with other individuals in their age group
  • Congregate Care: For seniors who want to live independently in an apartment setting that may have a lobby and recreational areas
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities: For healthy seniors who wish to have a concrete plan in case of future illnesses through assisted living and congregate care
  • Subsidized Senior Housing: For seniors who are looking for a more affordable place to live

As for the cost of retirement homes, the fees are generally charged monthly. Those facilities have the freedom to set lower or higher prices.

Fortunately, retirement homes in the United States can either be affordable or expensive based on location. Searching for retirement homes by state can help you stick to your budget.

These are the top 10 cheapest states when it comes to the average monthly minimum of retirement homes:

  1. Illinois
  2. Michigan
  3. Delaware
  4. Texas
  5. Kansas
  6. Virginia
  7. Washington
  8. Indiana
  9. Minnesota
  10. Missouri

On the other hand, the top 10 most expensive states are:

  1. North Dakota
  2. New Hampshire
  3. Rhode Island
  4. Vermont
  5. Hawaii
  6. West Virginia
  7. New Jersey
  8. Maine
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Pennsylvania

Nursing Homes

Retirees with serious health problems, whether it be physical or mental, are usually sent to nursing homes. Some have dementia, a mental disorder affecting intellect, personality, and memory. Highly qualified caretakers help the residents bathe, get dressed, walk, and other activities of daily living (ADLs).

Some nursing homes in the past faced backlash because of harsh elderly treatment, which is why a negative stigma exists. Depression was also a common thing there, not only because of irresponsible families but also lack of entertainment.

Thankfully, standard nursing homes in the modern setting are now heavily guarded by strict rules for the benefit of the seniors.

High-Quality nursing homes nowadays are like hospitals. Their medical equipment, services, and practices can ensure recovery from illnesses and surgeries. Expect services like orthopedic care, physical therapy, and speech therapy.

Despite the idea of nursing homes accepting end-of-life care, they can still keep other residents entertained. They can offer recreational activities appropriate for the age group they’re taking care of.

Tips for Choosing a Nursing Home

Since not all nursing homes are trustworthy, make sure to follow these tips for the sake of your older loved ones:

  • Ask for recommendations from health care providers, social workers, or home health nurses.
  • Get details from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
  • Check most of the nursing homes in person to see for yourself how suitable it is for older adults.
  • Compare the nursing homes by quality, cost, convenience, and the services offered.
  • Spend a couple of hours in the nursing home to get to know the social workers, administrators, and admissions officers.

Questions to Ask Nursing Home

You may even ask questions related to the following factors when you visit a nursing home:

  • Cleanliness
  • Facility maintenance
  • Number and quality of rooms
  • Privacy
  • Safety
  • Licenses and certifications
  • Ratio of the staff to the residents
  • Length of service
  • Proximity to hospitals
  • Nutrition

Once you find a great nursing home, remember to visit your loved one as often as you can. Don’t contribute to the stigma.

Who Qualifies for a Nursing Home?

Nursing Home

There are only a limited number of nursing homes across the country. So, don’t be surprised if the admission process is strict. An individual can only be qualified for the services of a nursing home if these documents or papers are presented:

  • Doctor’s Order for Admission to a Skilled Nursing Facility: The nursing home equivalent of a medical prescription to confirm that the individual requires intensive care
  • Physician Order and Authorization (Medications and Treatments): Contains orders from the hospital so the nursing home’s doctor and caregivers will know precisely what to do
  • Medical History and Physical Examination: Additional information about the patient to help the new doctor adjust to the senior’s condition
  • Certification form for the state: A document confirming that the patient has met the nursing home’s criteria, which is required for financial assistance
  • Chest x-ray or negative tuberculosis (TB) test: Proof that the patient doesn’t have TB, a disease that can easily harm other residents
  • Claim of patient’s consent: No forced entry allowed
  • Patient’s social security card: Just in case the process requires one

Since nursing homes are businesses, they need the money to continue their operation. Here’s the list of information the facility may ask about the patient’s financial status:

  • Enrollment in Medicaid or Medicare
  • Insurance (supplemental, life, burial, long-term care)
  • Existing benefits, funds, or pension
  • Existing rent or mortgage
  • Assets (e.g.: trust funds, bonds, stocks, bank accounts, cash, etc.)

How Long Does a Person Live in a Nursing Home?

Seniors in a nursing home will either stay there for years or just a few months.

Most of the residents in nursing homes live in the facility for at least a year. Meanwhile, 25% of the seniors can only stay for three months at most because some of them are solely for rehabilitation purposes. Sadly, the rest of the 25% have terminal illnesses.

Residents staying for more or less five years in nursing homes are quite rare. They only represent 21% of the population.

The trend of short-term stay in nursing homes regardless of the reason was already happening since the 1990s. Based on 1992-2006 data from a study, the average stay of the residents was only five months. Also, 65% passed away within a year while the case of 53% happened within six months.

The stats here have proved that nursing homes are ideal for severe cases. Unless the facility has a poor performance, a nursing home will do anything to take good care of their patients.

Why Are Retirement Homes Increasing?

Assisted Living

Now that we’re done focusing on nursing homes, it’s time to find out why there are more retirement homes in this generation.

It all comes down to the increasing demand. Overtime work becomes the new norm. People spend too much time on their computers to finish a report or paper. Others even juggle multiple jobs to keep up with the higher cost of living.

The result? The elderly are getting less attention when they’re staying with their families.

But, thanks to the benefits of retirement homes, families can rest easy knowing their older loved ones are safe and happy with people their age. Leaving seniors alone in their own homes can be alarming, so they’re better off with a community they can relate to.

Compared to an average household, life in retirement homes is more consistent. Older adults are usually particular about routine, and the lack of distracting changes in retirement homes can put their minds at ease.

What most retirement homes do is create a fixed schedule the residents can follow every single day. With planned meals and repetitive recreational activities, the seniors can be more relaxed.

Are Retirement Homes Necessary?

Despite the benefits of retirement homes, they’re not necessary. If families can find a way to openly communicate and make their home comfortable for their old loved ones, there’s no need to separate from them.

Communicate is key. Every family member must be okay with the arrangement. If not, conflicts may arise.

If one or two members don’t like the idea, the plan can still push through if there’s still enough room. What you can do is give a personal space for each member, especially the elder.

If you can’t find a way to let the elder move in with your family, you can make his or her own home comfortable. You may have to spend some time organizing and talk with reliable neighbors.

Check out these tips:

  • Arrange everything in a way that the elder will know where to find essential items.
  • Store unnecessary things.
  • If the elder has long-time neighbors, you can convince them to visit now and then (with consent from the elder, of course).
  • To attract frequent visitors, buy some comfortable porch or patio furniture where everyone can talk and relax.
  • Find an affordable yet nutritious meal delivery service for your loved one.
  • Help the elder indulge in a hobby or passion by giving books, a music player/entertainment system, and even a low-maintenance pet.
  • Install support or grab bars in strategic places to help the elder move around without any hassle.

The whole thing may require you to exert a lot of effort, but it’s all for the person you deeply care about. More importantly, encourage your family to visit regularly.


Kris Peter

A positive individual enjoying the journey, and always searching for adventure. I created Sunlight Living to help my parents (and eventually myself) prepare for retirement. About Kris

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