There will come a time in all of our lives when we’ll need to decide how to best care for ourselves as we age or our senior loved one. So many times, though, when we find ourselves in this position, we have more questions than we have answers to.

Some of the simplest of questions is basic terminology and being able to decipher the difference between this and that, and the other…

Because Nightingale Healthcare manages assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, specifically, this article will focus on simplifying a few of the basic terms that seemingly get confused the most in these areas.


The “assisted living versus nursing home” topic is best understood when you know what each term means. It also helps to know the other terms that are frequently used for the same types of senior care options. To that end, here are basic definitions that begin to clarify the difference between nursing home and assisted living options.

An assisted living facility (ALF) is a place where seniors or adults with disabilities live semi-independently and receive limited help with certain day-to-day activities. Assisted living communities tend to provide various hospitality and personal care services, 24-hour emergency response protocols, and regular opportunities for recreation and social interaction. The exact levels of care and types of services that are offered vary from facility to facility and often depend on state regulations. Other terms that are sometimes used when referring to assisted living include:

  • Assisted care
  • Residential care
  • Supportive housing
  • Supported living
  • Adult foster care (in facilities with no more than four residents)

nursing home is a place where residents who cannot live independently receive extensive and ongoing care due to old age, disabling medical issues, or other kinds of physical or mental conditions that require continuous monitoring or supervision. Nursing homes tend to provide more frequent and comprehensive personal care services than what you will find in assisted living facilities. They also provide easier access to skilled nurses. In some cases, people use the following terms when describing nursing home care:

  • Long-term care
  • Extended care
  • Rest home
  • Care home
  • Intermediate care home

skilled nursing facility (SNF) is a specific type of nursing home (or a special unit within a nursing home) that focuses on providing services that can only be carried out by registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical or vocational nurses (LPNs or LVNs). Skilled nursing facilities are mostly intended for people who need short-term medical care or rehabilitative services outside of a hospital following surgery or other serious medical treatments. Examples of skilled nursing care procedures include:

  • Giving injections
  • Inserting catheters
  • Using aspiration devices
  • Inserting IV feeding lines
  • Treating widespread skin diseases
  • Applying dressings to infected wounds
  • Assessing and educating patients
  • Planning, managing, and evaluating patient care

Personal care (also known as custodial care) is assistance that doesn’t require the skills of a registered or licensed nurse. That’s why personal care is a stronger focus within facilities that provide assisted living (vs. skilled nursing facilities, which have a stronger focus on skilled care for medical conditions). Examples of personal care services include:

  • Helping residents eat, bathe, get dressed, or go to the bathroom
  • Administering routine oral medications, ointments, or eye drops
  • Applying creams for minor skin problems
  • Repositioning residents in their beds
  • Changing dressings for non-infected wounds
  • Helping residents walk, get around in wheelchairs, or stay mobile through other means
  • Assisting with routine maintenance of bladder catheters or colostomy bags
  • Supervising residents who have dementia

For all of the above options, it’s always best to do your research and find a community that best suits not only your (or your senior loved one’s) physical needs, but also your emotional and personal needs as well.

Nightingale Healthcare is a privately held, family-owned healthcare management company located in Bellingham, Washington. Founded in 2014, it has been our mission to serve the communities in which we are located with superior skilled nursing and assisted living services. Our patient-centered approach to care incorporates individualized care plans alongside an unmatched level of compassion, patience, and love.

We proudly operate assisted and independent living communities throughout Washington and Oregon. If you are interested in learning more about our communities and services or in becoming a caregiver with us, please visit our website or contact Nightingale Healthcare directly at 360-656-6609.