Four Main Differences Between a Retirement Home and a Nursing Home

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the difference between a retirement home and nursing home. Some people seem to use the terms interchangeably, but they are, in fact, very different.


Level of Care


Probably the main thing that separates a retirement home from a nursing home is the level of care that is available. Nursing homes are for people who cannot care for themselves, whether this is due to age or infirmity or a combination of the two. A nursing home does not have an age requirement. Some young people who are severely disabled or extremely ill may be sent to a nursing home so they can receive the level of care they require. 


Retirement homes, on the other hand, are for seniors who are mobile and relatively healthy. Often residents must be in a certain age bracket in order to be allowed an application.




A nursing home will usually have a full staff of trained orderlies, nurses and often doctors as well.


A retirement home may have a couple of staff members who are trained to respond to emergencies. Some may employ a nurse at least on a part time basis.




Because the residents of a nursing home are typically wheelchair or bed ridden or have a mental capacity that prevents them from venturing out on their own, the overall mobility of that population is limited. Residents cannot come and go as they please, they must check in with the staff and request permission or have an approved escort.


Residents of a retirement home have more freedom to move about. They are usually not required to check in and out or request permission. They do what they want when they want to do it.


Environment and Culture


The typical nursing home environment is more akin to a hospital. Residents may have their own rooms, but are afforded little privacy. The rooms are usually arranged in a ward and are usually just one room with a bed, table, dresser and perhaps a chair or two. Sometimes the restroom is attached to the room, giving each resident his or her own private restroom. Sometimes there is one or two restrooms per ward.


Most retirement homes are set up as a collection of apartments or cottages. There may be maid service and a groundskeeper, but the residents have a full service living area with a kitchen, sitting room, sleeping quarters and bathroom.