Residential Care Home vs. Nursing Home: What’s the Difference?

Many of us choose to move into managed accommodation later in life, leaving some of the demands of the day-to-day behind in favour of an environment where meals are prepared and served, environments are cleaned and maintained and 24-hour care is available to all residents. As our society gets better at ensuring a high quality of life at all ages, a plethora of choices has emerged and even when it comes to options which may look very similar on the surface, substantial differences exist and must be carefully considered to ensure the best solution for the individual.

Residential care homes and nursing homes are two of the most traditional and popular options, and often no real distinction is made when discussing them, creating the impression that they are interchangeable terms, both describing the same offering. Residential and nursing homes both provide 24-hour care, but the level of care available differs considerably.

Residential Care Home

Residential care homes will have trained staff on hand at all times to fulfil a variety of functions: cleaning and maintenance staff ensure a pleasant and safe living environment, equipped with everything the resident might realistically need; catering staff and sometimes nutritionists and/or food scientists plan and deliver menus. Care staff assist residents in day-to-day activities where required, and a host periphery, support and management personnel are required to ensure the smooth running of the home long-term. This facilities are often set up according to an apartment concept, allowing residents to maintain some independence and the feeling of owning their space.

Nursing Home

All of these offerings are available in a nursing home, with the additional provision of trained medical staff (specifically, registered nurses) to deal with more complex needs. Residents in nursing homes typically have substantial medical considerations which require regular care and sometimes highly responsive on-call services. Many nursing homes will also be set up differently, for example specialist furniture and other equipment to help those with substantially reduced mobility. While nursing homes may be subdivided into apartments, some may be structured into dorms or even wards, similar to a hospital. The layout and the number of medical staff will depend on the needs of the residents, with apartment formats proving more ideal to those with the least serious conditions, and hospital formats better suited to those who may require constant attention.

This is the primary distinction and the only conceptual difference between nursing care and residential care. In practice, there are likely to be other significant differences in terms of the way buildings are fitted, activities are planned and meals are delivered, but these will differ between homes and according to the needs of the residents. This said, there remains one substantial difference between nursing and residential homes from a practical point of view: it is simply impossible to deliver the level of care available in a nursing home for the price of residential home accommodation, and as such a year in a nursing home can cost substantially more.

The most important question to ask is, if faced with a practical decision on the matter, what level of care does the individual require? Those who require some help with day-to-day activities like walking and eating would be placed in a residential home, while individuals requiring more constant and demanding medical assistance will receive the best care in a nursing home.

Signature believes in person centred care, where each of our residents are assessed and a bespoke care plan is agreed.  Find out more about person centred care here.