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Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

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Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

As our national population ages, the need becomes greater for assisted living and memory care communities. How do you determine which type of community is right for your loved one?

Often, you will find that assisted living communities do provide services to care for those with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia in early stages, as long as the person does not need intensive support or treatment for serious medical problems. Those services can include meals, medication management, bathing, dressing and transportation.

However, memory care (also called special care units) is a type of residential long-term skilled nursing specifically tailored to patients with memory problems. Memory care units usually provide 24-hour supervised care within a separate wing or floor of a facility. Care is provided by staff who are specifically trained to care for people with dementia.

Before deciding on an assisted living or memory care community for yourself or a loved one, here’s what you need to know about the important difference between the two.

Differences Between Assisted Living and Memory Care

There are differences between assisted living and memory care. Memory care is similar to assisted living but provides special care and support for those with progressive memory impairment. Here’s how the two types of care communities compare:


  • Overall look and feel: While apartments or rooms in assisted living communities usually feature a kitchen or kitchenette, those in memory care units do not. Memory care units also typically have enhanced security to prevent residents from wandering. These security measures may include secure outside areas, tracking bracelets to alert staff if a resident is too close to an exit and regular safety check. You will often find specially designed architectural elements in memory care units, such as larger windows for more natural light, calming colors and cozy gathering spaces.
  • Scheduling: Assisted living communities will often offer a wide range of activities and events to be involved with as residents prefer. But in memory care assisted living units, careful scheduling of these activities provides a comforting routine for seniors with memory problems. Plus, in dedicated memory care units, programs and activities are often tailored to cheer, calm and stimulate residents without contributing to anxiety, which is a common symptom of dementia.
  • Meals: Both assisted living and memory care facilities offer three meals a day, often in a restaurant-style setting. Because choice is important, menu options are typically offered in both types of residences. But for those with dementia, handling forks and spoons can become difficult. Memory care assisted living menus often feature nutritious meals served as finger food.
  • Staff training: In assisted living communities, staff are trained to help residents with activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing and moving around the community. Staff in memory care units are additionally trained in how dementia causes specific behaviors and how to respond and communicate with people with memory issues.
  • Staff-to-patient ratio: Regulations about staff-to-patient ratio may be governed by the state or the assisted living or memory care community. But for memory care units, an ideal ratio is one staff member per five residents.
  • Costs: Because memory care includes greater supervision, specialized nursing care and services, the costs are higher than for assisted living. Costs will vary depending upon the location of the memory care facility, type of living space (shared or private) and what services are needed.

Choosing Between Assisted Living and Memory Care

While it’s true that some age-related memory loss is to be expected, dementia is not a normal part of aging. Often, the early signs of Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders are easy to overlook. When dementia is diagnosed, it’s important to make a decision about care options by considering the senior’s personal preferences and personality. 

For some people, moving once to a memory care community that can accommodate their changing needs without another move will bring peace of mind. Others may prefer a gradual change in care and want to move to an assisted living community and eventually transition to memory care. To help make that decision, consider how much help the senior needs to live safely, healthfully and happily on a daily basis. Think about the diagnosis and what their medical professionals have said about medical needs and changes to expect in the near future. Then, visit some communities to get a sense of what options are available.

Need more information about assisted living vs. memory care? Learn how Elmcroft assisted living communities help seniors stay as independent as safely possible while maintaining their privacy, dignity and autonomy. Then, see how Elmcroft Memory Care communities offer the secure, supportive environment and professional care that keeps people with memory problems safe, healthy, happy and engaged. Plus, with one click, you can find a local Elmcroft community that is right for your loved one.

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