Resource Guide for Family Caregivers
What is the difference between residential care facilities, assistive living and supportive living housing?

Residential care facilities (or nursing homes) provide protective, supervised environments and access to 24-hour nursing care for people who can no longer live safely at home due to their physical and/or mental conditions. Services usually include meals and assistance, professional nursing care and/or supervision and medical management on a seven-days-per- week basis. Also, staff assist people with day to day living tasks, such as bathing and dressing. Residential care facilities must be licensed.

By contrast, the term “assisted living” is a form of housing with hospitality services and personal assistance such as mobility, bathing and monitoring medications. In the Vancouver Island Health Authority, personal assistance is provided by external home support agencies. Assisted living is for people who need daily personal support and are cognitively able to direct their own lives Some Assisted Living buildings are registered with the Assisted Living Registrar. Visit the Health Services website at

“Independent or Supportive Housing” is a form of housing with hospitality services (e.g. one meal a day, limited housekeeping and laundry). Some supportive housing may offer personal assistance, but usually these services must be purchased through outside home support agencies. Supportive housing is mainly for persons who are still able to maintain an independent life but need or want some support from others. Although each of the supportive housing situations is unique, they all share the following key characteristics:

  • a home-like atmosphere that is well suited to the needs of the elderly (this is called barrier-free)
  • private, lockable rooms, furnished by the tenants
  • regular light housekeeping and laundry assistance
  • enhanced opportunities for socialization

1. The Capital Region Experience‖, 2004 Assisted Living Review, Capital Regional District, Health Facilities Planning, February 2005.