When you or a loved one can no longer take care of your home, it might be time to consider senior living options. With so many senior care options, it can be confusing to figure out how they’re different and which one is ideal for your situation. Nursing homes can sometimes carry a negative connotation, but they offer a variety of skilled services you may need. Independent living offers more freedom, but lacks the support that some older adults require. This guide breaks down the differences between independent living and nursing home care, including what they’re like, the types of care available, the cost and who might benefit from each type of care.

Independent Living

Nursing Home




Care Provided


Help with ADLs, therapies, nursing care

Average Monthly Cost

$1,000 to $3,500 

$7,908 for a semi-private room, $9,034 for a private room

Who Should Consider It

Those who are active and don't need any assistance

Those who need 24-hour nursing care

Independent Living

Independent living is a senior community option that offers maximum independence and freedom while providing a sense of community. It’s a housing area for older adults, often with a minimum age of either 55 or 62. The housing types vary and may include apartments, townhouses, duplexes and single-family homes, ranging from studios to two-bedroom or three-bedroom floor plans, all positioned on the independent living campus. Regular maintenance and upkeep, including things like lawn care and snow removal, are typically handled by the community, so you don’t have to worry about them. You’ll usually have access to shared amenities that are either free or available for a fee, which can vary greatly but might include:

  • Fitness facilities
  • Clubhouses or community rooms
  • Green spaces
  • On-site dining
  • Housekeeping and laundry service
  • Scheduled transportation
  • Organized activities
  • Pet-friendly areas

The cost of independent living can vary greatly depending on where you live and the type of accommodations you choose. A small studio apartment will cost less than a two-bedroom single-family home, for instance. On average, you can expect independent living to cost between $1,000 and $3,500 per month. Independent living communities with affordable housing options that allow for government subsidies are also available for seniors who qualify based on income. 

Independent living options don’t include any personal care from the staff, but it does typically include help with home maintenance. That’s why this senior living option is best for older adults who are independent and able to take care of themselves. You should choose this option if you’re mobile enough to handle your daily activities and can handle things like managing your medications yourself. While you won’t receive any assistance with your care, you will get the security of a community and lower maintenance on your home.

Nursing Home

A nursing home setting provides skilled nursing care for people who need 24-hour care but don’t need to be hospitalized. This can be a short-term situation for rehabilitation purposes after surgery or an injury or long-term care for seniors who have ongoing health needs. Rooms are usually semi-private or private, and the facilities are often designed to feel like home since long-term residents typically spend the rest of their lives there. Residents typically receive all meals, housekeeping and laundry service in addition to the medical care they receive.

Like independent living, the cost of nursing home care can vary based on where you are and what facility you choose. Your room type is also a factor. According to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the median rate for a semi-private room is $7,908 per month while a private room is $9,034 per month. The higher cost is due to the amount of skilled, around-the-clock care the residents receive. Seniors can get financial assistance through government programs, such as Medicaid, VA assistance and Social Security Disability Income, if they qualify. You can also use private funding options, such as long-term care insurance and reverse mortgages.

Nursing homes tailor care to each patient based on their health issues and needs. They can help with personal care activities and many medical services. The staff often includes certified nurses, and many facilities have doctors and other health care professionals who make regular visits to care for patients. Some of the common services nursing homes provide include:

  • Skilled nursing care
  • Medication management and administration
  • Assistance with activities of daily living
  • Transfers
  • Dietary services
  • Therapy services, such as physical, occupational and speech therapies
  • Routine hygiene
  • Enrichment activities

A nursing home setting is ideal for patients who need around-the-clock care that goes beyond basic assistance. This includes seniors with limited mobility who can’t take care of their physical needs and those with ongoing medical care needs. Nursing homes also often have memory care units for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease to provide them with a secure environment with the assistance and medical care they need.   

Frequently Asked Questions

How does a nursing home compare to assisted living?

Assisted living focuses more on helping residents with daily tasks, such as grooming, bathing and going to the bathroom. They also typically offer medication management and might bring in some medical specialists, such as therapists. However, residents still maintain a high degree of independence and typically just need a little assistance. Nursing home care includes medical care and patients often need a lot more assistance.

What happens if I move to independent living and need more assistance?

Your needs often change as you get older, and independent living might not always be the right option. Many senior living communities have multiple levels of care on one campus, including independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing care, so you can move within the community as your needs change. Current residents often have priority if they need to move to a higher level of care. 

What types of security features do independent living communities offer?

Security features can vary, but many have secured building entrances and on-site management or security teams. It’s also common to have emergency pull cords or buttons that you can use to call for help. Some senior living options are inside gated communities to help control who has access to the community.