Difference Between a Retirement Home and a Nursing Home

By: | Updated: Jul-22, 2023
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Getting older can feel like both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side of the spectrum, you have had the opportunity to live a long life and make many memories to reminisce on. There are also certain freedoms that elderly individuals have like grown children and retirement. On the other hand, your body has begun to change. The aches and pains are getting worse and you need to pay more attention to what you eat and how much you exercise. 

At this stage of life, many start to consider the best living situation for themselves. While aging in place is possible, complete independence is not always the ideal option. Two main living situations for older individuals are retirement homes and nursing homes. 

What are the main differences between these two types of accommodations? Let’s dive in so that you can make an informed decision about your future living situation.

Difference Between a Retirement Home and a Nursing Home

Level of Independence

The amount of independence that a resident has in each of these scenarios is vastly different. Generally, nursing homes include residents that have greater care needs. That means the staff at the facility have a bigger role to play in the daily lives of the residents. Retirement homes, however, are not focused on assisting residents with day-to-day activities. This means that choosing to live in a retirement home or community will grant you more independence than is typical of a nursing home.

Since nursing home residents are reliant on attentive staff to thrive, there is always the risk of abuse or neglect that could lead to personal injury or wrongful death. 

Health Care Services

The main reason why you might consider moving into a nursing home is your dependence on health care services. Nursing homes come with a fully trained staff that can aid you with physical and mental care needs. This includes assistance with everyday tasks, medications, eating, and health monitoring. Life in a retirement home is much different. A resident’s health care needs are likely minimal, or at the very least, not constant. 

If you have ongoing physical needs like limited mobility, mental health struggles, or challenges completing everyday tasks, then moving into a nursing home makes more sense. However, you should understand the potential risks of nursing home abuse and how prevalent the issue is. 


Recreational activities are services offered by both nursing homes and retirement homes, but they look very different. For retirement homes, these activities are organized for far more independent individuals. In a nursing home, the recreational options may be a little less energetic and more accessible to those with limited mobility. Also, the focus of the nursing home is medical care, so there may be fewer recreational options at this type of facility. A retirement home, on the other hand, can build out an extensive calendar for residents to enjoy social and physical activities. 


Though the funding difference between nursing homes and retirement homes does not affect the lives of residents, it does affect the pay structure of these facilities. Retirement communities are private entities, which means they do not receive any money or grants from the government. Often, the cost of living in this type of home is dependent on the size of the unit you live in and the various amenities offered by the facility. Many nursing homes receive government funding. Monthly payments are established based on the services offered. 


The location of the two facilities can also be different. For the most part, nursing homes are placed near critical care facilities like hospitals and urgent care centers so that emergency services are very close. Retirement homes are often focused on community amenities like parks, libraries, shopping, and other similar options. This makes it easier for residents to retain their independence since they can easily access non-healthcare activities and businesses. The priority for nursing homes is providing care, so they need quick access to healthcare facilities. 

Making the Best Decision for Yourself

People that are getting older approach this decision with many preconceived notions about what these facilities provide. Whether you are deciding for yourself or helping an older family member navigate this process, it can be a difficult subject to discuss. Giving up independence can be very challenging, but facing the reality of your needs is crucial at this point in your life.

If you have a lot of physical care needs or require constant attention to stay safe, then you will want to move into a nursing home that is equipped to handle your needs. If your home or the location of your home is no longer suited to helping you maintain independence, then moving into a retirement home can grant you access to nearby amenities and recreational opportunities with people that are your age.

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