Though many assisted living facilities have memory care units on the premises, the two forms of care are not synonymous with one another. Memory care is a more comprehensive type of senior care as it caters specifically to individuals who live with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other types of memory problems. Memory care units generally have 24-hour supervised care within a standalone wing or on another floor of an assisted living facility. The physical layouts of dementia care units are designed to be easy to navigate around, which minimizes the likelihood of wandering. Dementia care units have dedicated programs intended to delay the progression of dementia among their residents.

If your elderly loved one lives with memory problems that hinder their ability to perform the activities of daily living (bathing, eating, medication management, toileting, dressing, and other self-maintenance tasks), it may be time to consider moving them into a memory care unit.

General Assisted Care Services

Safety and well-being is a top priority for all assisted living communities. This is true regardless of whether they cater specifically to dementia care residents or not. A quality senior living facility should offer these primary care services:

• Help with ADLs, such as feeding, dressing, toileting, bathing, grooming, and ambulating
• Three daily meals
• Housekeeping services
• Transportation

Services That Are Specific to Memory Care

Aside from ensuring the safety of their residents, the main objective of dementia care facilities is to slow the progression of memory loss. To achieve this goal, dementia care units offer both standard senior living services in addition to the following:

Safety for wandering or confused residents

• 24-hour supervision
• Secured and/or alarmed premises
• Emergency call systems

Specifically, trained staff

• Medication management
• Nursing staff

Structured Environment

• Cognitive therapies that include music, art, and reminiscence are proven to enhance brain function, communication and social interaction in memory care patients
• Gardens, which help dementia patients feel less trapped
• Health and exercise programs
• Socialization activities

Goals & Benefits of Memory Care

Memory Care is the fastest growing segment of senior care, and for a good reason it offers more than assisted living by providing an improved quality of life, despite the circumstances. In addition to keeping seniors safe and promoting their mental and physical well-being, memory care units offer residents a variety of services that actively work against their memory loss.

Memory Care units have reported other substantial improvements in their residents’ overall quality of life. Some of the more notable enhancements are as follows:
• Decreased falls and injuries
• Reduced need for medications and reduction in medication-related side effects
• Fewer violent episodes
• Fewer emergency room visits
• Increased independence and social interaction
• Enhanced nutrition and reduction in vitamin deficiencies

Comparing Memory Care to Other Types of Long-Term Care


Memory Care vs. Assisted Living

Though many assisted living communities have memory care units, assisted living care and memory care are not the same. In assisted living communities, residents are no longer able to perform ADLs on their own due to a progressive impairment. In an assisted living facility, your loved one would receive housing, support services, and health care as needed, as well as medication management, transportation, and if necessary, round-the-clock care.

Memory care differs from assisted living due to the fact that memory care comes with more restrictive, 24-hour supervision. The staff’s training in a memory care unit are also more comprehensive and detailed. Additionally, the physical layouts are designed to better suit the needs of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Assisted living communities are not federally regulated. However, memory care units are federally regulated in 23 states.

Memory Care vs. Skilled Nursing

Like some assisted living facilities, select skilled nursing homes also have memory care units. However, the care offered at skilled nursing homes is directed toward rehabilitation patients or those who do not require long-term care. Staff at these facilities may include speech-language pathologists, audiologists, rehabilitation specialists and physical therapists, among others. The staff ins memory care units, on the other hand, are specifically trained to meet the needs of persons with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other types of memory problems.

Memory Care vs. Residential Care

Residential care homes provide housing, meal services and help with activities of daily living. These facilities, also known as board and care homes, cater to small groups of adults. Though some offer part-time medical care, it is not the primary focus of this type of senior living community.

Signs It’s Time for Memory Care

Deciding to transition an aging loved one to a senior living facility can be tough. However, memory care may be decision to thoughtfully consider. If you need help relieving your guilt over transitioning your elderly parent into a memory care unit, ask yourself the following questions:
• Does your loved one experience incontinence or need help toileting?
• Does your loved one need help with eating?
• Does your loved one need ongoing medical attention, e.g. colostomy care or dialysis?
• Does your loved one require diabetic care?
• Does your loved one wander?
• Does your loved one show aggression or other behavioral issues?
• Does your loved one need 24/7 supervision?
• Is your loved one experiencing Sundowner’s Syndrome?
• What is your loved one’s level mobility? Does he or she walk independently or require a walker or wheelchair?
• Is your loved one getting lost in familiar territory?
• Does your loved one know his or her phone number and address?
• Does he or she forget to lock or shut doors?
• Is he or she forgetting to turn off stove burners or the oven?
• Have you seen a decline in personal hygiene or appearance?
• Is your loved one able to manage his or her own meds?
• Is he or she increasingly suspicious or paranoid?
• Does your loved one experience short term memory loss?
• Does your loved one substitute words that make no sense or forget everyday words, such as “fork” or “toothbrush?”
• Does he or she seem disoriented, even in familiar environments?
• Does your loved one experience delusions or seems depressed?
• Does your loved one have unexplained weight loss?
• Has your loved one forgotten how to perform the most basic of daily tasks, such as dressing, bathing, or cooking?
• Has your loved one become withdrawn?
• Does he or she continuously misplace objects or have to retrace his or her steps?
• Has caregiving for your loved one become too much?

If you answered yes to a handful or more of the above questions, it may be time to talk to your loved one and family members about memory care.