If you or a loved one is experiencing a specific illness or the health difficulties that come from age and declining strength and stamina, then you might be wondering how to find the necessary care and support. This can be a difficult problem because many options are available, all of which provide different services and are intended to meet varying needs and conditions. Some seniors may lean toward home health care, for example, without fully understanding what it entails. Others may automatically think of a nursing home and shudder at the thought of having to leave their homes and independent lifestyle. 

Home health care brings medical professionals like therapists, certified nursing aides and visiting nurses into your home to provide various therapies, monitor health and assist with personal care. Nursing homes, on the other hand, offer 24-hour care for complex medical needs or rehabilitation. This guide describes home health care and nursing home care in detail, explains the services offered by each, examines the costs involved and notes who should consider each care type.

Home Health Care

Nursing Home Care


In home

Clinical/social community

Care Provided

Health monitoring, help with ADLs, therapy, medication management, chronic condition management

Complex medical care, nursing services, help with ADLs, medication management

Average Monthly Cost



Who Should Consider It

Those recovering from illness, surgery or injury and those who require light medical care

Those who require complex medical care or rehabilitation, those with significant limitations in mobility and function

Home Health Care

Home health care provides in-home medical services from certified nursing aides, licensed nurses and therapists. Certified nursing aides assist seniors with activities of daily living (ADLs), administer medication, monitor overall wellness, check vital signs, prepare meals and perform housekeeping and laundry chores. They may also provide minor mobility aid, help with medical devices and offer companionship. Licensed nurses visit homes to perform more extensive health monitoring, change dressings on wounds or incisions, monitor IV lines or catheters and evaluate medications.

Therapists often specialize in physical, occupational and speech therapies, and they play a major role in home health care. Physical therapy works primarily on increasing mobility and decreasing falls and the potential for injury. Physical therapists help people develop safe ways to get in and out of bed, for instance, and rebuild their walking skills after illness or injury. Occupational therapists focus on helping seniors regain their personal care abilities, including dressing, grooming and eating. Speech therapists concentrate on vocalization and language skills as well as swallowing abilities.

Home health care is often recommended for seniors in the later stages of recovering from illness, surgery or injury. They may have been in a skilled nursing or rehabilitation facility for a time but no longer need complex medical care and are ready to transition back into their homes. Often, however, they still require monitoring, assistance and therapy, and home health care provides these. Also, seniors who have experienced a decline in strength and function may benefit from home health care, which allows for comfort and independence but still offers necessary medical support on a regular basis.

Home health care costs average $5,100 per month in the United States, but it’s not always necessary to pay monthly. Some agencies work on an hourly basis and, depending on the services needed, may charge between $15 and $75 per hour. Seniors generally pay more for licensed nursing and therapy services than for certified nursing aides.

Nursing Homes

Nursing home care is designed for people who need 24-hour care and supervision due to complex medical conditions, recovery from illness, injury or surgery, cognitive impairments or simply the declining abilities of old age. Many people who require nursing home care can’t get out of bed on their own, perform activities of daily living, manage their medication or handle their medical conditions without significant assistance.

Services offered by nursing homes vary widely. Caregivers help with ADLs like bathing, dressing, grooming and eating. Transfers between bed and wheelchair, often with lifts, are common, as is assistance with mobility. Housekeeping and laundry services are available as well. Nurses and caregivers with proper certifications administer medications, provide incontinence care, manage diabetes and other chronic conditions, offer wound care and infection control and handle IV and catheter management. Staff members work closely with physicians to develop personalized care and treatment plans for each resident. Communities sometimes have visiting physician and podiatry services as well as dental and auditory care on-site.

Therapy is another critical part of nursing home care, especially for those who require short-term stays for rehabilitation. Most nursing homes offer physical, occupational and speech therapy on-site, and many have specialized therapy gyms designed to simulate daily activities. Respiratory therapy for people with breathing difficulties may be available as well.

Since residents live in nursing homes full-time, these communities provide daily meals and snacks, usually monitored by a dietitian who ensures that menu choices offer proper nutrition. Daily recreational, educational, social and spiritual programming is also common and may include musical entertainment, themed parties, games, crafts and classes. Many care communities recognize the benefits of pet therapy, music therapy and intergenerational programming as well.

Nursing home care tends to be the most expensive senior care option, running an average of about $7,900 per month for a semiprivate room and coming up to an average of around $9,000 per month for a private room. Financial assistance may be available for seniors who qualify.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are activities of daily living?

Both home health care and nursing home care offer assistance with the activities of daily living. ADLs include all the little daily tasks that many people take for granted, like bathing or showering, dressing, toileting, combing hair, shaving, putting on makeup, making meals and even eating. Caregivers can provide seniors with valuable help and peace of mind in these areas.

What Is the difference between home health care and home care?

Home health care offers medical services such as vital sign monitoring, therapy, medication administration and incontinence care. Home care, however, focuses on nonmedical care like housekeeping, meal preparation, laundry, transportation, help with ADLs and companionship.

How can a senior pay for nursing home care?

Nursing home care can be expensive. Many seniors use Medicare and supplemental insurance coverage to help pay for care. Some seniors also purchase long-term care insurance, access government funding options or use private funding sources such as annuities and reverse mortgages.