Many seniors will require long-term care at some point in their lives, but everyone’s needs will vary. Some older adults may be mostly independent and only need help with a few daily tasks. Others may require around-the-clock personal care and medical services, depending on their condition. It’s not uncommon for people to develop chronic or terminal illnesses as they age, making it unsafe to live at home alone. 

Nursing homes offer long-term residential care in a homelike environment to help seniors feel comfortable and secure. A wide range of services is available, from assistance with activities of daily living to medical services or therapies. Some facilities are set up like a hospital with 24-hour medical staff. However, an individual with a medical condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s may receive more suitable treatment in a memory care community. While amenities and services are similar to a nursing home, memory care facilities offer specialized treatment for cognitive impairment.

This guide provides in-depth information on nursing home and memory care facilities, average costs and who can benefit the most from each care type. 

Nursing Home

Memory Care


Residential, social

Residential, social

Monthly Average Cost

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

Between $4,500 and $7,908

Services Provided

ADLs and skilled nursing care

ADLs and specialized memory care treatment

Who Should Consider It

Those with a chronic or terminal illness requiring long-term care

Those with cognitive impairment

Nursing Home

Nursing homes provide residential therapeutic, rehabilitative or preventive care for seniors who don’t require hospitalization but need 24-hour medical care they can’t get at home. These facilities offer a wide range of services and may be referred to as skilled nursing facilities or convalescent homes. Nursing homes can accommodate short- or long-term residents, depending on the level of care needed.

If you’re recovering from surgery or need treatment for an acute illness or injury, nursing homes can provide temporary housing to meet your health and wellness goals. However, only a small percentage of residents are short term. Most are there for long-term care due to a chronic or terminal illness. Residents typically remain in a nursing home for the duration of their lives and have access to several services, including:

  • Nursing care
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Medically related social services
  • Dental services
  • Specialized rehabilitation for a physical or mental illness
  • Room and bed maintenance
  • Personal hygiene
  • Hearing and vision treatment
  • Speech, physical and occupational therapy
  • Infection control
  • Range-of-motion exercises
  • Transportation to off-site doctors’ appointments

Care is administered by 24-hour support staff, including licensed nurses and other specialists. While nursing homes focus mostly on medical care, assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing, using the bathroom, eating and getting in and out of bed, is also provided. Some nursing homes may also have specialty units to treat cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.

According to the 2021 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the U.S. average cost for a semiprivate room at a nursing home is $7,908 per month, while a private room costs around $9,034. This price will vary depending on what city and state you live in. 

Memory Care

Many residents of long-term care facilities live with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. Due to the symptoms associated with memory loss, staying with family may not be the best option. A specialized memory care community provides a safe alternative to a traditional residential facility for seniors affected by memory loss and ensures they receive the proper care needed for their condition. 

A memory care community can either be a separate facility or a unit in a skilled nursing care facility. These communities strive to provide residents with a high quality of life while keeping them safe. For example, many memory care communities have security measures in place, such as keeping the entrance locked so residents don’t wander out and get lost or hurt. Services are provided that cater specifically to memory loss, such as:

  • Cognitive ability
  • Attention span
  • Memory
  • Language
  • Physical function
  • Reasoning ability

Opportunities for socializing or engaging in hobbies are also provided, with activities such as therapy pets, musical entertainment or gardening, depending on the facility. Instead of focusing on prescribing medication, memory care addresses behaviors associated with cognitive impairment by evaluating your loved one’s environment or other potential triggers for behaviors. 

Similar to a nursing home, memory care also provides assistance with activities of daily living and other amenities, including transportation to off-site appointments, meal preparation, housekeeping and access to around-the-clock care by licensed nurses. Pricing for memory care usually falls somewhere between assisted living and nursing home rates. For reference, the average price of assisted living in the United States is $4,500 per month, while a semiprivate room in a nursing home is $7,908, but these prices will vary based on location and amenities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does insurance cover memory care?

Some insurance plans may cover costs associated with memory care. For instance, Medicare covers inpatient hospital care, outpatient prescription drugs, doctors’ fees and certain medical items. However, it doesn’t cover costs for long-term nursing home care or personal caregivers. 

How do I know when it’s time for nursing home care?

Deciding to move your loved one to a nursing home community can be difficult. However, if they’re struggling to care for themselves, experiencing decreased mobility or requiring more medical
attention throughout the day, a nursing home may be more beneficial for their quality of life. Spend a day with your loved one and observe how they’re doing. If you notice any of the above signs, it may be time for long-term residential care.

What’s the difference between a retirement home and a nursing home?

The biggest differences between a retirement home and a nursing home are the services, amenities and lifestyle options. For example, senior living communities offer life enrichment opportunities and more independence, while a nursing home focuses on providing around-the-clock care and medical support for residents.