When searching for a place for your loved one to live, it’s likely you’ll find listings for both large senior care facilities and residential assisting living communities. The question is – what’s the difference between them? Does one type usually cost less than the other? Does one type feel boring and drab compared to the other? And most of all, which one generally offers better care, safety, and a sense of wellbeing for your loved one?

When the time comes to begin looking for a place to move your mom or dad in their later years, it’s important to identify the differences these two types of sites can offer. Many people consider cost first, especially today with the economy being what it is. But we also want to emphasize the differences in both the physical and mental care your loved one will likely receive. After all, these factors will determine their overall health and enjoyment of living while in the care of others.

Caregiver: Resident Ratio

When looking for a place to move mom or dad into, the main factor that determines the quality of care for your loved one is the staff to resident ratio. In larger settings, the so-called “Big Box” facilities can sometimes go as high as 1:18. This extremely high ratio negatively impacts the mental and emotional aspects of those in their care by hindering companionship and personal care opportunities.

Residential assisted living communities, on the other hand, generally average 1 staff member for every 5 residents. This much lower ratio not only offers more opportunity for genuine connection and personal care but reduces the chances of a resident experiencing an injury due to falling, as there are more team members to look out for them.


Caregivers in assisted living communities also tend to address their residents by name, making those in their care feel special. They also have the time and patience to understand each resident’s special needs and unique preferences, while also engaging in authentic conversations with them.

In larger environments, a one size fits all approach doesn’t lend many opportunities for celebrations beyond major holidays. But in assisted living communities, parties and celebrations marking birthdays, anniversaries, and other unique occasions are common. Special food menus are usually available during these festivities, and resident engagement is encouraged.

Hospital Room Environment vs. a “Feeling of Home”

One of the unique factors that influence mental health and wellbeing is a sense of home. Large operations tend to be limited in available space, depressing mood, and reducing the number of personal effects that residents may have access to. In assisted living environments, elements of décor tend to strongly encourage the concept of “a home away from home.” Inviting settings that are infused with warm colors foster a feeling of comfort and familiarity rather than the monochromic tone of many larger senior care facilities. Room for resident paintings, photo albums, and unique items of personal interest can be prominently displayed to rekindle fond memories and encourage general wellness.

Cost Comparison

You can’t have a real discussion about the differences between larger facilities and their smaller counterparts without addressing the cost factor. For some, it may be shocked to learn that a semi-private room in a nursing home costs about $6,844 per month, with some “big box” charging even more.  On the other hand, assisted living communities average much less, costing about $4,050 per month.

There is another factor when you are considering long term senior care; you need to think about more than just the initial cost when your loved one moves in. Remember, as your loved one gets older, their level of care generally increases, requiring additional attention and often medications.

At larger facilities, a progressive pricing policy is used, meaning as needs increase, so does the monthly bill. Sometimes, you are forced to cover the added expense as medical conditions worsen for your loved one.

However, you may be surprised to discover that all assisted living communities cover the cost of food, care, and medications at a fixed rate. Unlike their larger competitors, they do not increase prices based on the frequency of medication. You can be sure that in these smaller, more personal settings that your loved one will be cared for no matter what their needs are.

Overall, residential assisted living communities can provide a better social setting for those in their care. The environment is warm, safe, and intimate, allowing seniors to mingle amongst a smaller circle of friends rather than a sterile environment full of acquaintances. Numerous studies show that older folks tend to be more susceptible to loneliness, isolation, and depression. With genuine connections and closer friendships, residents can avoid these negative effects.

Smaller assisted living communities work hard to ensure that each resident is active and involved with their fellow companions, fostering a level of happiness that simply can’t be matched in a larger, institutional-like setting. In this smaller setting, a sense of home gives residents a feeling of comfort and familiarity that just can’t be emulated. In this environment, residents can share an intimate connection with those around them while their caregivers focus on delivering high-quality care every day they are part of the community.