Growing old is a blessing that comes with a set of unique challenges. One of the major decisions seniors have to make is where to spend their golden years. Nursing homes have long been associated with seniors, so many assume this is the default retirement option for old age. However, there are significant differences between a nursing home and a retirement home. Knowing the services are available to seniors at each type of accommodation is key to making the right decision for yourself or a loved one.

This guide offers an in-depth look at nursing and retirement homes. You’ll learn the differences in the care provided in each type of home and the monthly costs attached to the services. Finally, you’ll be able to identify who can stay in a retirement home and who should live in a nursing home so you can confidently make a decision that makes navigating old age easier for the people you love.

Nursing Home

Retirement Home




Care Provided

Caregiving, nursing, prescription management, rehabilitative therapy


Average Monthly Cost

$7,908 for a semi-private room

Depends on the specific location and amenities provided

Who Should Consider It

Those who need full-time medical help

Seniors who want to lead independent lives surrounded by peers

Nursing Home

A nursing home is a facility that offers people full-time access to care from skilled medical professionals. Residents of nursing homes don’t need the type of intensive care patients receive in hospitals, but they often need round-the-clock supervision from nurses and caregivers that they can’t get in their own homes. 

Nursing homes can have a hospital-like setting, with nursing stations on every floor to ensure residents receive full-time monitoring. However, many nursing homes provide care in a home-like environment that allows people to receive necessary care while participating in social activities such as communal eating, exercise classes and game nights. Depending on the facility, residents can live with their partner or spouse.

In the United States, the monthly costs of staying in a nursing home range from $7,908 to $9,034. The actual costs of a nursing home depend on factors such as the type of accommodations offered, the level of care a resident needs and the length of stay. Some people stay in a nursing home for a short time to recover from injuries or sickness, while others remain long-term to receive continued medical care. While the services offered at a nursing home vary from resident to resident, most facilities provide the following:

  • Assistance with activities of daily living
  • Housekeeping, linen and laundry services
  • Dental services
  • Wound care
  • Cardiac monitoring
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Social services

People should consider short-term stays at a nursing home to recover from operations and extensive injuries caused by accidents or serious illnesses. Seniors with progressive medical conditions, such as terminal cancer, can benefit from continued quality medical care and form strong bonds with caregivers and fellow residents during long-term nursing home stays. 

Seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia also make good candidates for a nursing home. Memory care is a type of skilled nursing that caters to such seniors as their memory worsens. They get assistance with activities of daily living and engage in various memory-enhancing activities throughout the day. A memory care nursing home is also secured to ensure residents don’t wander off and get lost.

Retirement Home

Retirement homes allow people who don’t need constant medical supervision to lead independent lives surrounded by peers, convenient services and quality amenities. A retirement home can be part of a retirement community — a whole neighborhood equipped with all the services needed to make seniors’ lives more comfortable. Many retirement communities allow seniors to live in serviced apartments, condos, townhouses or bungalows. Most communities offer essential amenities such as supermarkets, grocery stores and beauty shops. They may also provide transportation services and organize social functions to help seniors interact and build friendships with their neighbors. Some places offer seniors luxury amenities, including swimming pools, hot tubs, tennis courts and golf courses.

Since seniors living in retirement homes can live independently, they don’t receive assistance with activities of daily living or routine chores. Consequently, the costs of a retirement home can be similar to those of other housing types within the area. However, seniors in a high-end retirement community can expect to pay around 10% more than the market rental rate for luxury amenities. Some retirement communities use a continuum of care model to cater to seniors’ needs over time. For example, a resident can benefit from independent living at a retirement community before transitioning to assisted living and nursing care as they grow older and deal with more serious health conditions.

Seniors interested in leading active, independent lives surrounded by people in the same life stage should consider living in retirement homes. They can lead full lives without the restrictions or rigid schedules found in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. People who need medical care should pick retirement communities that offer essential health care services or choose a retirement home within a short distance of hospitals and other health care facilities. However, retirement homes aren’t suitable for people who need assistance with activities of daily living. They’re also not appropriate for seniors who need frequent medical supervision.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I bring to a nursing or retirement home?

Since nursing homes provide residents with full-time medical care, the law requires them to provide beds and bedding. As a resident, you can bring personal effects such as clothing, toiletries, phone, laptop and stationery. You can also pack some favorite knick-knacks to make your space feel more like home.

Residents in retirement homes get more leeway on what they can put in their accommodations. They can bring similar things to people in nursing homes. They can also have valuable jewelry and favorite furnishings in their retirement homes.

When can I visit a loved one in a nursing or retirement home?

Most nursing homes have a list of visitation rules to ensure your visit doesn’t interfere with residents’ activities. Familiarize yourself with the visiting times and requirements beforehand to ensure you don’t waste a trip.
Since seniors in retirement homes live independently, you may only need to talk to your loved one to arrange a visit. However, depending on the rules of their retirement community, you may be unable to extend your stay beyond a few days.

Can I get financial assistance to pay for a nursing or retirement home?

Medicaid can cover the stay of a qualifying senior at a nursing home. A physician can prescribe a short- or long-term stint. Some states offer financial assistance for seniors to stay in subsidized housing or congregate care communities. However, seniors who want to stay in luxury retirement homes and communities pay for the costs using personal finances.