10 Ways Senior Living Communities Aren't the Same as Nursing Homes

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10 Ways Senior Living Communities Aren't the Same as Nursing Homes
Couple on paved walking trail at senior living community surrounded by spring greenery

Everyone wants the best for the people they care about. This desire is especially top of mind for those who are exploring senior living options with a loved one. You want to make sure your loved one is supported and cared for and that they have what they need to live life to its fullest. But with so many different senior living options out there, how do you choose?


One question that may come to mind is whether a senior living community or a nursing home is the best option. Understanding the ways that senior living communities are different from nursing homes is important when trying to find the ideal fit for your loved one.

Below we explore the following ten features that differentiate senior living communities from nursing homes:

  1. Independence Levels / Differing levels of monitoring and support

  2. Types of Care / Lifestyle needs versus types of care offered 

  3. Medical Needs / Medical history and desired health outcomes

  4. Activities / Engagement opportunities and diversity of activity calendar

  5. A Sense of Belonging / Chances to meet and connect with friends

  6. Amenities / Premium features and convenient amenities

  7. Dining Options / Delicious and healthy chef-prepared food options

  8. Environment and Atmosphere / Personalized and comfortable living spaces

  9. Duration of Stay / Plans for the future 

  10. Pricing / The cost considerations

Everything You Need to Know About Social Health in Senior Living

Senior Living Communities vs. Nursing Homes

There are several differences between senior living communities and nursing homes, and we’re going to take a look at the main differences so you can make an informed decision with your loved one.

1. Independence Levels

There’s a delicate balance between a senior loved one maintaining their independence and having the support they need to thrive. Senior living communities such as Cedarhurst Senior Living strive to maintain this balance so residents remain as independent as possible while receiving the exact level of support they need.

Whereas senior living communities support self-sufficiency while offering enrichment opportunities through special programming, nursing homes often focus more on around-the-clock monitored support. 

2. Types of Care

Whereas nursing homes tend to provide the same high level of care to all residents, senior living communities offer personalized care levels depending on the needs of the individual, so each person receives the exact care they need—no more and no less. This level of personalization helps ensure each resident is living life to the fullest while having their unique needs met.

There are three lifestyles offered in senior living: assisted living, memory care, and independent living.

  • Assisted living: This lifestyle provides the support residents need to perform daily activities such as bathing or eating. Assisted living is ideal for those who require assistance and specific services, whether occasionally or around the clock. It’s also ideal for those who are in good health but desire low-maintenance living.
  • Memory care: This lifestyle provides essential resources for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Each resident receives tailored programming, and staff members ensure the resident’s routines, preferences, and choices are respected.
  • Independent living: This lifestyle is ideal for those who don’t require assistance with daily activities and who want to live a low-maintenance lifestyle while pursuing their passions.

Within assisted living, there are three basic levels of care and two enhanced levels of care available to ensure each resident receives the required support:

  • Level 1: This level includes reminders to make sure residents maintain healthy habits. Hands-on assistance and supervision are not offered at this level.
  • Level 2: This level includes guidance and hands-on assistance as needed for residents who benefit from gentle reminders to perform activities of daily living (ADLs).
  • Level 3: This level offers additional caregiver assistance with resident-directed ADLs such as bathing or toileting.
  • Enhanced level 4: This level provides hands-on care for residents with balance problems that result in decreased mobility and functional issues.
  • Enhanced level 5: This level consists of a personalized suite of services provided by one or two caregivers for residents who have cognitive, mobility, balance, or motor challenges.

3. Medical Needs

Senior living communities often have medical offices or physical therapy offices on campus. High-quality communities focus on residents’ health outcomes and only hire staff members with the skills to ensure those outcomes. And because senior living communities prioritize flexibility in care options, they can offer more than a one-size-fits-all approach, allowing for enhanced support and care. In case of a medical event, such as a fall, staff members are available to assist residents.


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4. Activities

Senior living communities and nursing homes both offer opportunities to participate in activities, but what they offer varies quite a bit.

For example, senior living communities offer plenty of engaging activities tailored to residents’ interests and needs. Cedarhurst Senior Living offers residents a vibrant, active lifestyle with plenty of opportunities to engage in fitness activities, art classes, lectures, and more.

One of the features that makes Cedarhurst stand out is our innovative Living TRUESM program that focuses on building meaningful relationships, curating sensory experiences, and offering programs tailored to each resident’s preferences and history. It all starts with a “Resident Story” survey that is given to residents upon move-in and tells us all about their preferences. From that point on, four times a year, we ask for resident input on what activities they’ve enjoyed and what they want to see in the future.

Nursing homes may offer activities such as arts and crafts or card games, but they often don’t have the same variety as senior living communities because nursing homes focus on care needs rather than a holistic approach to well-being.

5. A Sense of Belonging

A support network of friends who can offer an encouraging word, join in on a card game, or meet up for a meal and cup of coffee is priceless. This is why senior living communities like Cedarhurst are designed around socialization. Connection with others is essential for healthy aging, and senior living makes it much easier and more convenient to connect with new neighbors.

Cedarhurst Senior Living provides plenty of opportunities to meet new friends with similar interests during life enrichment activities and classes. There are also plenty of opportunities to strengthen existing friendships over a meal in the dining room or during a stroll through the beautiful campus.

Even those who aren’t social butterflies may find themselves chatting in the dining room with friends, saying hello to neighbors in the hallway, or starting a conversation with someone new during an activity.

6. Amenities

One of the best things about senior living communities is the convenience. Residents have access to many premium amenities just outside their apartment door, from a salon to a pharmacy and even a fitness center.

Sticking to personal wellness goals is much easier when there are classes and equipment available right outside your loved one’s apartment door. Fitness centers in senior living communities are filled with safe and easy-to-use exercise equipment so your loved one can fit some healthy movement into their day. 

Even as recently as 10 years ago, it was hard to find a senior living community that was also pet-friendly. Today, many senior living communities acknowledge that pets are part of the family and welcome these furry friends into the community along with their people. Many communities offer amenities such as on-site dog parks and walking trails for residents and their pets to get in their daily exercise.

7. Dining Options

Food is at the heart of community. There’s something special about gathering around a table with friends and sharing a meal and conversation.

Senior living communities don’t just have bright dining rooms; they also have delicious and healthy food options that offer something for everyone. In almost every Cedarhurst community, you and your loved one will find our Crafted by CedarhurstSM* dining program, which is designed to meet numerous nutritional needs. 

From heart-healthy options to Boost Your BrainSM foods that support cognitive function and even familiar favorites every day, there’s something for everyone. Our menus also offer gluten-free, low-sodium, and diabetic-friendly options that delight the taste buds while supporting well-being.

Nursing homes also offer dining options that support nutritional needs, but they may not offer the wide range of food choices available in senior living communities. 

*Check your local community for Crafted by Cedarhurst availability.

8. Environment and Atmosphere

From walking trails to beautifully manicured grounds to private apartments, senior living offers a true community that feels comforting and like home. Your loved one has the freedom to personalize and decorate their apartment, starting with choosing from several different floor plans.

After your loved one moves in, they can decorate their apartment however they feel inspired to. From using mirrors and paintings to open up the space to bringing in sentimental items such as digital photo frames, there are plenty of opportunities to personalize the space and make it feel welcoming.

9. Duration of Stay

Your loved one’s senior living apartment is just that: theirs. They can make it feel like home with decorations and personal touches, and it’s theirs for the entire duration of their stay.

Keep in mind that your loved one’s needs could change over time. When you’re narrowing down your options, it’s important to know if the community can handle any adjustments to your loved one’s care to avoid further transitions.

A nursing home is a specialized medical facility that provides more intensive nursing care than can be received at home, so the main focus is to aid in health recovery. Because of this, the duration of stay in a nursing home depends on various factors, such as changing health needs. 

10. Pricing

At the top of most people’s lists of questions about senior living is cost. Many families may not realize that senior living costs are more affordable than they think. Several factors go into senior living pricing, including local cost of living, senior living lifestyle, level of care, community amenities, and the size of your loved one’s residence. 

Tip: To explore the estimated cost of senior living compared to what your loved one is paying to live in their current residence, we recommend using our TRUEcost calculator.

Reap the Benefits of Socialization

A sense of belonging and connection with others is one of the top advantages of senior living communities, and the benefits of socialization extend far beyond simply having fun. Socialization also positively impacts mental and physical health, helping seniors stay cognitively sharp. 

Learn more about the positive impacts of socialization and how to help your loved one experience the advantages of staying connected with others in our guide The Power of Connection for Senior Health.

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