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What Is a Nursing Home?

Quick Answer

Nursing homes offer comprehensive, round-the-clock long-term care. We'll explore what nursing homes are, their cost, and the services and amenities they offer. We'll also compare the pros and cons so you or your loved one can make an informed decision on if a nursing home is the right choice for you.

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Detailed Answer

When we think of long-term care facilities, nursing homes are often one of the first options that come to mind. But what does care in a nursing home look like? 

As of 2020, there were 1.3 million people living in nursing homes around the U.S. These homes provide comprehensive and intensive long-term care and skilled care to their residents. Today, nursing homes are only one of many options for long-term care; however, individuals may choose this option for many reasons.

In the following sections, we'll define nursing homes, explain how much they cost, the pros and cons, and why someone might choose a nursing home over other care options. 

If you already know a nursing home is the best option for you or your loved one, consider using LTC News's Long-Term Care Directory to compare nursing homes in your area. This directory allows you to access data from nursing homes and other care facilities nationwide so you can make an informed decision on long-term care. 


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What Is a Nursing Home?

Nursing homes are residential care facilities offering round-the-clock medical and custodial care for elderly and disabled individuals. They cater to those who have significant long-term care needs and need extensive help or supervision in their daily lives.  

Accommodations at nursing homes usually consist of private or shared rooms. Both options offer comfort and privacy to residents. 

Nursing homes aim to create a secure and nurturing environment for their residents. They serve as an essential resource for those with extensive care needs, ensuring safety, improved quality of life, and peace of mind.  

How Are Nursing Homes Different From Skilled Nursing Facilities?

Before we move on, there’s a misconception we need to clear up. In your research, you may hear about skilled nursing facilities. These sound really similar to nursing homes, but they’re not the same type of facility, and they offer different types of care. 

Skilled nursing facilities are short-term care facilities that offer rehabilitation. People usually only spend 15 to 45 days at these facilities. They offer specialized therapy and care to help people recover from things like injuries or surgeries, not long-term illnesses. 

On the other hand, nursing homes are a long-term living solution for people who need help in their daily lives. People usually go to nursing homes because they can no longer live on their own, not because they’re recovering from an injury or surgery. 

Nursing homes do occasionally have rehabilitation services, so a temporary placement after an injury or surgery can be a reason some are admitted. These stays are usually short-term, focused on intensive rehabilitative services, and could include physical, occupational, or speech therapy.

Nursing homes that offer rehabilitation services will have staff trained specifically for these functions. The services are often housed within the same building, but the training will be geared toward rehab rather than the long-term care training that other staff members will have.

What Services and Amenities Do Nursing Homes Offer?

Nursing homes offer a range of services to meet the complex medical and personal needs of their residents. Here are a few common services: 

  • Help with activities of daily living and custodial care. This can include help with bathing, dressing, eating, or moving.

  • Skilled nursing care. Nursing homes have registered nurses on staff to provide customized medical care to residents. Skilled nursing services can include medication management, wound care, and injections.

  • Rehabilitation therapy. Many nursing homes offer various therapies. These therapies can include physical, occupational, speech therapy, and more. 

  • Memory care. Some nursing homes offer specialized memory care units for those with Alzheimer's or dementia. 

  • Respite care. Some nursing homes also offer short-term respite care programs. These programs give caregivers a break from their responsibilities. 

  • Hospice care. Similar to respite care, some nursing homes offer hospice care. The goal of hospice care is to improve the quality of life for those with life-limiting illnesses at the end stages of life. 

Recreational activities and amenities are an essential part of nursing home life. Here are a few offered at nursing homes. 

  • Exercise programs. Many nursing homes offer exercise programs catered toward seniors. These focus on improving strength, flexibility, and balance. 

  • Arts and crafts. Painting, pottery, knitting, and other arts are commonly offered in nursing homes. These activities can help promote creativity and provide a sense of accomplishment.

  • Games. Bingo, card games, board games, and puzzles are popular activities among nursing home residents. These games provide mental stimulation and can help residents socialize with one another.

  • Outdoor spaces. Some nursing homes have gardens, patios, or other outdoor spaces. Residents are free to enjoy the fresh air and sunlight, which can help them relax or be a good place to read.  

  • Music and entertainment. Music therapy is common in nursing homes. It can help keep residents engaged and entertained.

  • Beauty and barber services. Many nursing homes have on-site beauty and barber services. These services can help residents feel fresh and confident in their appearance. 

  • Religious services. Some religiously affiliated nursing homes may offer in-house services or events. 

How Much Do Nursing Homes Cost?

The cost of nursing homes is split into two sections: semi-private and private rooms. 

In 2024, the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home was $8,240/month or $98,057/year. The median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $9,338/month or $111,121/year. These numbers came from LTC News's Long-Term Care Cost Calculator, which collects cost data from facilities around the country to generate median cost statistics. 

It's worth mentioning that nursing home costs can vary greatly depending on the location, size, and amenities offered within the nursing home. 

For example, a nursing home in California with a high demand for senior care services will cost a lot more than a nursing home in rural Louisiana.

Despite the high sticker prices, not everyone pays full price for nursing home care. Both Medicaid and Long-Term Care Insurance cover nursing homes. 

Medicaid recipients are entitled to nursing home care in all 50 states. Medicaid recipients aren't always free from the costs of care either. 

Some individuals may be required to reimburse the government for their care costs through Medicaid estate recovery. Estate recovery happens when the government takes an individual estate after they pass away to reimburse themselves for the cost of long-term care. 

On the other hand, Long-Term Care Insurance offers comprehensive coverage for nursing homes. If, for some reason, your LTCI coverage ran out and you had a partnership policy, you would be able to continue receiving care under Medicaid without risk of estate recovery. 

Neither Medicare nor traditional health insurance covers nursing homes. Traditional health insurance, as well as some Medicare supplements, do cover up to 100 days of skilled nursing care per diagnosis, but this will not cover basic care needs like help with activities of daily living. 

What Are The Pros and Cons of Nursing Homes?

As with any type of long-term care service, nursing homes have many benefits and drawbacks. Below, we'll explore some of the main reasons why individuals would or would not choose nursing home care.  

Pro – Nursing Homes Offer Comprehensive Long-Term Care

Nursing homes provide personalized, comprehensive, long-term care to their residents. Many nursing home residents need a high level of care that isn't possible outside of a nursing home setting. 

Unlike many other long-term care facilities, nursing homes offer round-the-clock care. This means residents can get the care they need as often as needed. For example, other facilities, like assisted living, aren't designed to provide constant care 24 hours a day to each resident. 

In addition, many nursing homes also offer specialized care like skilled care or various therapies. By offering specialized care in-house, nursing homes can help reduce stress around needing to leave the facility for treatments.  

Con – Extensive Long-Term Care Can Get Pricey 

As discussed previously, nursing homes range anywhere from a few thousand to upwards of ten thousand dollars each month. The actual cost of nursing home care depends on a few factors, such as the location, if you have a semi-private vs. private room, and how luxurious the nursing home is. 

However, even with those factors in mind, it may be difficult or even impossible for some individuals to cover nursing home care costs on their own. 

Neither traditional health insurance nor Medicare covers any nursing home costs. This means individuals expecting to rely on Medicare or their health insurance to cover costs will have to pay out of pocket.

Long-Term Care Insurance and Medicaid both cover nursing home care. However, you can't get Long-Term Care Insurance if you already need care, which means individuals looking for a way to cover costs without planning with insurance may be out of luck. 

Medicaid will cover nursing home care, but only after an individual meets the financial requirements. This involves spending down assets and income and potentially losing everything.  

Pro – Nursing Homes Are a Social Environment

Nursing homes offer a supportive community to grow and connect with others. Residents live near each other and have opportunities throughout their day to connect and make meaningful friendships. 

Most nursing homes offer social activities and programs to help residents stay active and improve creativity and well-being. 

These activities and social opportunities help prevent loneliness, which is essential to maintaining a high-quality life. In fact, it's so crucial that studies have proved that increased social connections can actually prevent or improve dementia symptoms. 

Con – Nursing Homes Can Be Challenging to Adjust to

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a majority of people prefer other types of care over nursing homes. It's no secret there's a stigma about nursing homes. Some people's beliefs about nursing homes may outweigh the benefits that nursing homes offer. 

It can be difficult for some individuals to cope emotionally with the transition. Not only are individuals coming to terms with their care needs, but some may be moving for the first time in many years. This transition can be very hard, especially for those who've lived in the same home for most of their lives. 

Finally, some residents may have an issue with their new living arrangements. Many nursing home residents share a room, which can be hard on those used to living alone. 

Pro – Enhanced Peace of Mind Through Safety

Nursing homes offer security and peace of mind for both residents and their families. They offer top-notch security, including fall detection and emergency alert systems, ensuring a fast reaction in the event of an emergency. 

Knowing that trained professionals are available round-the-clock to provide medical care, assistance with daily activities, and emotional support can alleviate worries about managing complex health needs independently. 

In addition, nursing homes often provide a structured environment with a range of amenities and social activities. This routine and easy access to activities can help residents stay engaged and active in their older years, which can alleviate family members’ concerns about their loved ones being unhappy within the facility. 

Con – Nursing Homes Can Feel Isolating

Depending on the facility, some individuals may feel isolated in nursing homes. Some residents may feel anxious about making new friends. Other residents may have a condition preventing them from being as social as they'd like. 

On top of these worries, some residents may feel isolated from their loved ones and friends. This is especially true for residents with limited opportunities to see their loved ones or leave the facility. 

Many nursing homes have rules around visiting hours that can be hard for some residents to get used to. It's especially challenging for residents who were previously very outgoing and independent. It may take time for some individuals to adjust to the new lifestyle. 

Some facilities also have a high staff turnover rate. Having a strong bond with caregivers is important to some people. Facilities with high turnover may be unable to support these people in the way they need. However, this risk comes with any long-term care facilities, not just nursing homes. 

An Overview of Nursing Homes

Nursing homes can be an essential resource for individuals who need ongoing, intense, long-term care. They offer a wide range of services that cannot be provided at home or other long-term care facilities. These services can include therapy, help with activities of daily living, and skilled care. 

In addition to providing care, nursing homes also give residents a place to live their lives safely. There are several activities and amenities to choose from that help residents stay active and maintain their social lives. 

LTC News wants to help you make the best long-term care decisions for your or your loved one’s long-term care needs. We have several resources like this one that can help you learn more about long-term care:


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