What’s The Difference Between Assisted Living And Skilled Nursing?


If you or a loved one is seeking senior living, you may be wondering about different options. In particular, you may be wondering if assisted living or skilled nursing (also sometimes referred to as a nursing home) is the right option.

If you’re in the process of deciding on the next step for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to understand the distinctions between the two. Assisted living is for people who may require assistance with day-to-day tasks: hygiene, dressing, bathing, medication management, etc. Skilled nursing is for older adults who need more comprehensive care – perhaps they’re recovering from an illness, a surgery, or have more specialized medical needs.

In each case, older adults don’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning and other day-to-day tasks as those are taken care of for them. But there are a variety of differences between the two.

Choosing Between Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing Options

As you go through the process, there may be some confusion as to which option is best. A simple way of considering it is this: with assisted living, that community becomes the resident’s new home. With skilled nursing, the goal is to be discharged back home.

But that said, often a stay in skilled nursing ultimately leads to someone moving into an assisted living community. Or vice versa – an assisted living resident’s medical needs may be such that more specialized care is required.

In this blog, we’re going to discuss these levels of care and offer guidance on what may be the best option for you or your loved one.

Assisted Living – What You Need to Know:

Elderly woman in a tiki costume waving to the camera

At Prestige, we like to say that we are Not Your Grandma’s Nursing Home. It’s more than Bingo and bus trips (although we love those too). Our philosophy is to create meaningful moments for our residents every day. With everything from Wii Bowling to manicures, there’s something for everyone at our communities.

With restaurant-quality dining, varied activity calendars and compassionate care from a dedicated team, we strive to offer residents the best that life has to offer. At Prestige, that includes comprehensive fitness programming designed to build and maintain strength to help reduce falls. And as much as we care for physical health, we also tend to the cognitive health of our residents with cutting edge programming that activates the brain.

Who is the Right Candidate for Assisted Living?

Maybe you or a loved one is having trouble keeping up with maintaining a home. Perhaps you’d like additional social opportunities. Maybe you need some help with day-to-day care and tasks.

If so, assisted living might be the right option for you. From things like dressing, hygiene, medication management or other routines, our team helps residents get the most out of life, while creating events and programming that promote longevity and independence.

Or, perhaps you or a loved one recently suffered a fall, or maybe you’ve noticed cognitive decline. Whether it’s an immediate concern about health and safety or feeling like you or a loved one needs more enrichment, it may be time to consider assisted living.

Skilled Nursing – What You Need to Know:

An elderly man working through rehabilitation with a skilled nurse

After a hospitalization involving a serious injury, illness, or surgery, your loved one may require additional 24/7 medical care at a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF), also known as a post-acute care center.

Skilled nursing centers accommodate a wide range of care needs to help individuals achieve optimal recovery and regain their independence before returning home to their everyday lives. This level of care is intended to be a transitional period to bridge the gap between hospital and home.

During a stay at a post-acute care center, your healthcare team will work with you to build an individualized care plan based on your unique medical needs and recovery goals. Your rehabilitation program may include short-term, long-term, or specialty care services such as:

  • Orthopedic Rehabilitation
  • Physical, Speech, and Occupational Therapy
  • Stroke and Cardiac Rehabilitation
  • Wound Care
  • Pain Management
  • Nutrition and Dietary Services
  • Bariatric Care

Who is the Right Candidate for Skilled Nursing?

Skilled nursing care is meant for those who are recovering from a life-changing health event such as a stroke, orthopedic surgery, or serious illness. It is considered a transitional period to help patients recover and regain their independence prior to returning home.

After a hospitalization, a person may be experiencing muscle loss, limited mobility, and/or cognitive health challenges. Care at a skilled nursing center has been proven to reduce the risk of rehospitalization by providing each person with individualized care, ongoing, comprehensive evaluations, and the education they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

While a stay at a skilled nursing center is intended to be a short-term, transitional period between hospital and home, a person may require long-term care depending on the severity of their medical needs. Long-term care at a skilled nursing center is recommended when a person’s care needs are no longer able to be met at a lower level of care. In addition to a restorative rehabilitation program, they may require 24/7 nursing oversite and assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and eating. 

Post-acute care at a skilled nursing center not only helps people recover from a serious hospitalization, but it also aids in regaining their independence and improving their overall quality of life.

Key Differences Between Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing

To help sort through which option may be best for you or a loved one, here are a few ways to differentiate the two levels of care.

Medical Care:

In assisted living, communities have a Health Services Director who guides the care plan for each resident. There may be a staff nurse on hand, and there are trained medication personnel who help residents with their prescriptions. But residents go off-site to tend to most of their medical needs and appointments.

Meanwhile, skilled nursing centers provide a full range of specialized rehabilitation care and therapy programs designed to meet the unique needs of each individual. This includes a 24/7 onsite clinical team, comprehensive evaluations, personalized care plan, variety of therapy services, post-operative care, and much more. 

Room Options:

Residents in assisted living have their own private apartment in the community. It may be a studio or one-bedroom, and there may even be two-bedroom options. Each apartment comes with its own bathroom, as well as a kitchenette which includes a refrigerator, microwave and other basics.

A view of a bedroom at the Carson Tahoe Prestige Care location

During a stay at a skilled nursing center, residents often stay in a private or semi-private room with a bathroom attached. Resident rooms are spacious enough to accommodate wheelchairs and may include a TV and phone.

Social Life:

Social activity is at the core of our approach to assisted living. From meals in the community dining room, to a full events calendar, the social aspect is what often draws many older adults to assisted living. Residents have the option to take part in as much or as little as they’d like as they meet new friends.

Although the goal of a skilled nursing care stay is to achieve a successful recovery through a rehabilitation program, it is also important for residents to maintain an active social life to enhance their emotional wellbeing. Skilled nursing centers offer family visiting hours and often schedule activities for the residents to participate in to ensure continued socialization with their loved ones and fellow residents.  

Sullivan Park resident taking senior foster dog for a walk.
Sullivan Park resident taking senior foster dog for a walk.


Our assisted living residents enjoy a first-class experience, as we promote health and longevity in our community. Among the amenities are:

  • Restaurant-style dining
  • Social events calendar with activities, happy hours and educational opportunities
  • Weekly housekeeping, linen and cleaning service
  • Scheduled transportation for outings, appointments and errands
  • Active resident council
  • Religious services

In skilled nursing, there are many amenities centers may offer to make a person’s stay as easy and comfortable as possible. Amenities may include:

  • 24/7 Post-Acute/Skilled Nursing Care
  • Monthly Activities and Events
  • Transportation Assistance
  • Social Services
  • Private and Semi-Private Rooms
  • Spacious Dining and Common Areas
  • Rehabilitation Gym
  • Wheelchair Assessment
  • Personalized Meal Plans
  • Housekeeping Services

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Assisted Living and Nursing Homes

Health Condition of the Senior

Assisted living can be the right choice for older adults who need help with day-to-day health needs, but who don’t require daily care from a physician or have unique needs. There is medication management available, and every community has a Health Services Director to help guide the residents’ care plans.

Skilled nursing care is recommended for those who have been hospitalized or need additional 24/7 care following an injury, illness, or surgery. They may be experiencing mobility issues, cognitive challenges, or require assistance with activities of daily living.

Level of Assistance Needed

As part of the process of moving in to assisted living, residents undergo an evaluation to determine the level of care needed in assisted living. Some people are largely independent, while others may need more specialized assistance and help with day-to-day tasks like dressing, bathing, hygiene and more.

It is important to consider a short-term stay at a skilled nursing center if your independence has been impacted after a serious hospitalization. You may require therapy services to improve your mobility, wound care management after a surgery, or assistance with achieving daily tasks.

Prestige Care caregiver sitting with a resident at one of the Prestige Care locations

Location and Proximity to Family

Prestige Senior Living has over 40 assisted living communities in the Western United States. Many residents live near family and loved ones who visit regularly, while other residents may not have family nearby. We care for each resident as if they are our own family member, and regardless of distance communicate regularly with families on care plans and changes in health. 

If your loved one requires post-acute care after a hospitalization, you may consider a skilled nursing center in close proximity to family and friends. This ensures your loved one is able to have frequent visitors which will give them a sense of support, comfort, and safety.

Quality of Life

Life in assisted living at Prestige is all about fun. We celebrate life at every age with fitness and wellness programming, varied event calendars and restaurant-quality dining. From Wii bowling to happy hours, there’s something for everyone as residents enjoy life in a lively, social community.

After a serious hospitalization, a person may be experiencing a sense of uncertainty and concern as they navigate their recovery journey. During your stay at a skilled nursing center, your interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals are dedicated to working with you to regain your independence and improve your overall quality of life.

Contact Us to Learn More

We know that the process of researching senior living can be overwhelming, so as you go through the process of examining your options for senior living, we have a variety of resource guides on our website covering a wide range of topics that can help.

If you’re looking for more clarity on the right option for yourself or a loved ones, our teams are always available to meet either in-person or virtually to learn more and help guide you down the right path. Contact the community nearest you to get started!


Can seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia live in assisted living or nursing homes?

While some memory loss is common and normal in older adults, assisted living residents with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia have options with our award-winning memory care. Our memory care communities are best-equipped to handle the specialized needs of those living with cognitive decline.

In a skilled nursing situation, one of the greatest challenges families may face as their loved one ages is finding them specialized and compassionate care, particularly if they are experiencing a form of memory loss such as dementia. A person with dementia faces unique medical needs that can make accomplishing a daily task seem daunting. Memory Care at a skilled nursing center ensures a person is able to receive the 24/7, advanced care and support they need while living an active, fulfilling life.

Care teams at a skilled nursing center work with each memory care patient to keep them engaged, while creating an environment in which they are able to thrive and receive the highest quality of care. Innovative care techniques and life enrichment activities are used to provide an outlet for creativity and turn daily activities into memorable and meaningful events. 

In addition to dedicated care, a variety of amenities are provided to ensure each memory care patient feels comfortable and safe in their new environment including medication management, regular housekeeping, secured centers, licensed nursing oversight, and educational resources.

How do I know which option is right for my loved one?

We highly encourage you or a loved one to contact the Prestige community nearest you to set up a tour. When meeting with our teams, you can discuss the particular needs you have, how we can best serve you, and which level of care might be right.

How do I choose the right assisted living or nursing home facility for my loved one?

With an assisted living community, a tour is a vital component to the process. As you make your way through the community, ask yourself, “Can I see myself living here”? After all, assisted living needs to become home.

On the skilled nursing side, you need to ensure that the community can properly care for the specific needs facing you or a loved one, and there’s a care plan in place to help you get back on your feet and back home.