Residential Home vs Nursing Home: Key Differences

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Residential homes help with daily living (dressing, bathing) for older adults who are generally healthy. Nursing homes offer around-the-clock medical support with on-site nurses, specialised equipment, and care for those with more complex health needs.

Selecting a care home for yourself or a loved one is a significant decision. Ensuring you find a place that matches the individual’s needs is important for both well-being and peace of mind.  One of the first things to understand is the difference between residential care homes and nursing care homes.


Residential Care Home

Nursing Care Home

Level of Care

Assistance with daily tasks (bathing, dressing, meals)

24/7 medical care from registered nurses

Typical Residents

Older adults needing help with daily life, possibly early-stage dementia

Individuals with complex health conditions, limited mobility, advanced dementia


Care assistants, visiting nurses as needed

Care assistants and on-site registered nurses


Social activities, community focus

Complex medication management, wound care, specialised equipment (e.g., hoists)


Generally more affordable

Typically more expensive due to higher staffing levels

Residential Care Homes

Residential care homes provide support with the tasks of daily life. Care assistants help residents with bathing, dressing, meals, and taking routine medications.  These homes often have a close relationship with local district nurses who visit to provide additional medical care as needed.

Residential care might be a good fit for older adults who need some assistance but don’t have major medical conditions.  Individuals in the early stages of dementia may also thrive in this type of setting. Residential homes often focus on fostering a sense of community with activities, outings, and opportunities to socialise.

Nursing Care Homes

Nursing care homes offer a higher level of medical support.  They have registered nurses on staff around-the-clock to monitor residents’ health, manage medications, and provide specialised care.  This might include wound care, assistance with mobility using specialised equipment, or care for those with complex medical conditions.

Nursing care homes are often the better choice for people with significant health needs requiring frequent attention, those with limited mobility, or those with advanced dementia.

The Grey Area: When the Choice Isn’t So Clear-Cut

It’s important to remember that not every care home fits neatly into the categories of ‘residential’ or ‘nursing.’ Some homes offer enhanced levels of care within a residential setting, while others have specialised units catering to specific needs.

Here’s why this matters: Your loved one’s needs might change over time.  Choosing a care home with options for increased care can provide peace of mind and  avoid the stress of another move in the future.

Questions to Ask When Choosing a Care Home

  • Do you have staff specifically trained in dementia care, and if so, what kind of environment do you provide for these residents?
  • Can you manage complex medication routines, or would certain conditions require outside medical visits?
  • If my loved one’s health declines in the future, could they stay in your home with additional support, or would they need to move elsewhere?

You can see a checklist of questions to ask a care home here.

How to Make the Best Decision

The first step in choosing between residential and nursing care is having an honest assessment of your loved one’s current and potential future needs.  Talking to their doctor or a social care worker can provide valuable insights.

While understanding the different levels of care is crucial, other factors also significantly impact a resident’s quality of life. Consider these aspects when choosing a care home:

  • Atmosphere: Does the home feel warm and welcoming, or more institutional? Is the environment calm or bustling with activity? Choose a place that aligns with your loved one’s personality.
  • Dementia Expertise: If dementia is a concern, look for homes with specialised units, featuring secure environments, staff trained in dementia care approaches, and appropriate activities.
  • Location and Visiting: Can family and friends visit easily? Proximity to loved ones is important for maintaining social connections.

Frequently Asked Questions

Choosing a care home raises many questions – both practical and emotional. Here are a few things families often ask us:

  • Can my loved one keep their own room if their needs increase? This depends on the individual home’s policies and if they offer different levels of care. Always ask this upfront, as it can save the stress of another move later.
  • Will they still have choice and control? Good care homes encourage residents to maintain as much independence as possible. This includes choices about daily routines, meals, and activities whenever safe and practical.
  • Can they keep seeing their own GP? Typically, yes. Residents can often retain their existing GP, though the GP may make home visits rather than the resident going to the surgery.

We’re Here to Help 

Navigating care home options can feel overwhelming.  Our experienced team can guide you in determining whether residential or nursing care might be the best fit for your loved one’s needs.  Contact us today to discuss your individual situation.

Resources for Further Guidance

Navigating this decision can feel overwhelming.  Here are some excellent resources to help you make informed choices:

  • Age UK: Offers a wealth of advice and information on elderly care options:
  • NHS Choices: Provides guides and tools for assessing care needs and finding care homes in your area:
  • Your Local Council Website: Search for your council by postcode to find their section on social care for the elderly. This often includes information on financial assistance as well.

Remember: Don’t hesitate to ask care homes as many questions as you need to feel confident in your decision.