Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or Independent Living?

How to compare senior living options.

By Megan Kempston, staff editor
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The first step to finding the perfect living situation for your loved one is to decide what type of residential care facility is the best fit. There are five main types:

Independent living facilities are best for active adults who want built-in community without giving up their privacy. Most feature studio or multi-bedroom apartments with kitchens so residents can stay independent as long as possible.

Continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs, are best for those seeking a continuum of care from independent living to skilled nursing, all in one location. CCRCs generally have studio or multi-bedroom apartments for their most independent residents and private or shared rooms for residents who need more care.

Assisted living facilities are best for those who need some care and supervision but who don't need skilled nursing care. Most assisted living residents live in private or semi-private rooms within a complex.

Board and care facilities are best for those who can't live independently due to physical or mental disabilities but who don't require fulltime skilled nursing care. They feature private or semi-private rooms in a complex (often a large home) that usually provides communal dining.

Skilled nursing facilities, also called nursing homes, are best for those with illnesses or mental conditions requiring fulltime monitoring and medical care. Most skilled nursing residents live in semi-private rooms, and meals are generally provided.

Want more information? Compare amenities, services, and payment information for each type of residential care using the chart below. Some amenities and services may vary from state to state.

  Independent Living CCRCs Assisted Living Board and Care Skilled Nursing
Types of care:          
Daily personal care   x x x x
Medication monitoring     x x x
Memory and Alzheimer's care   some facilities some facilities some facilities some facilities
Physical, occupational, and other therapies   x   through outside agencies x
Skilled nursing care   x     x
Hospice care       some facilities some facilities
Social activities x x x   x
Housekeeping x x x x x
Meals x x x x x
Transportation to appointments and outings x x x    
Yearly cost (varies widely): $12,000 - $42,000 $20,000 - $400,000 move-in fee, plus $6,000 - $48,000 annually $28,800 - $66,000 $14,400 - $36,000 $86,000 - $90,000
Forms of payment accepted:          
Private pay x x x x x
Medicaid     for expenses other than room and board   x
Medicare         for a limited time
Supplemental Security Income     x    
Veterans assistance x   x   x
Long-term care insurance x   x some facilities x


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