Assisted living and memory care are two fast-growing options for long-term senior care. Read our primer to find out the major differences between the two types of care, including cost, services offered, and how to choose a facility for your loved one.
Around 70% of adults over the age of 65 will need long-term care at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When our loved ones can no longer live independently, that’s when caregivers are faced with the difficult decision of what type of care to select—because not all long-term care options are created equal. Two of the fastest-growing types of residential senior care are assisted living and memory care, but what are the differences between the two, and what are the most important factors in making that choice?
Defining Assisted Living
If your loved one is still active and vital, but can no longer live entirely independently and needs assistance with everyday activities such as bathing, eating and dressing, one of the options available to him or her is assisted living. According to the Assisted Living Federation of America, assisted living is defined as “a long-term care option that combines housing, support services and health care, as needed.” Personal care services in assisted living often also include transportation and medication management, and care is available around the clock. Seniors in assisted living usually have the option of a private room or shared space in an apartment, depending on their preferences and budget.
As your loved one ages, they may simply need a little extra help with everyday tasks, or they may require more specialized nursing care if they have age-related issues with mobility, or conditions such as dementia. Assisted living facilities vary in terms of what services they offer, but some of them do provide memory care services, usually in a dementia special care unit (SCU).
Assisted living facilities are not federally regulated, but they should be licensed by the state in which they are located. See more information on Assisted Living costs and services.
Defining Memory Care
Although assisted living communities may have memory care units on the premises, the two types of care are not synonymous. Memory care is a distinct form of long-term skilled nursing that specifically caters to patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other types of memory problems. Also called special care units (SCUs), memory care units usually provide 24-hour supervised care within a separate wing or floor of a residential facility.
As with assisted living, if your loved one is no longer able to care for him- or herself due to progressive impairment, memory care offers a residential solution. In addition to providing assistance with activities of daily living as described above, the staff in memory care are specially trained to assist people with dementia or impaired cognition. Also, the physical layout and security of memory care wards is designed to better suit Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, so that wandering behavior is minimized and the environment is pleasant and easy to navigate.
In addition to the general state-level licensing of care facilities, memory care is further regulated in 23 states by special care unit disclosure laws requiring care providers to disclose the special services they offer. However, because these laws are not yet universal, it is critical for caregivers to research facilities well before making a decision.
Assisted Living vs Memory Care: A Cost Comparison
The costs of assisted living and memory care are both subject to a lot of the same variables: geographic location, size of room or apartment, whether a space is shared or not, what services are needed. Beyond that, however, costs are figured a bit differently for the two types of care.
Assisted living communities generally charge a base monthly rate, which covers room and board with two to three meals per day. In 2012, the average cost for a one-bedroom assisted living apartment was $3,300 per month, according to the 2012 A Place for Mom Cost of Care Survey. Some facilities cover housekeeping, laundry and other services in their base rate, while others charge extra—so it’s important to get a cost breakdown for each facility you’re looking at.
Because memory care offers specialized care and nursing services that regular assisted living does not, the cost tends to be quite a bit higher: $5,000 per month on average, according to A Place for Mom, although costs vary widely. Fortunately, there are some options available to help pay for senior care and reduce the out-of-pocket price tag, such as Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits.
Services Offered in Memory Care and Assisted Living
State regulations vary regarding what services should be offered in senior care communities, but generally, both memory care and assisted living offer basic supervised care, medical monitoring, and help with daily activities such as dressing, mobility, and hygiene. Other services that are usually offered in both types of care include:
- 24-hour staff supervision and security
- Emergency call systems
- Three daily meals
- Housekeeping and laundry service
- Health and exercise programs
- Social programs and activities
- Access to medical care
Some of these services may cost extra on top of the base monthly rate.
Additionally, memory care often includes structured activities or programs designed to nurture residents suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. For instance, Sunrise Senior Living offers “Reminiscence neighborhoods” with outdoor and indoor spaces designed to be both secure and soothing, with a range of familiar activities available and trained staff on hand.
Should I Choose Memory Care or Assisted Living?
If Alzheimer’s or dementia is not an immediate concern, and your loved one is still relatively independent, then assisted living may be an excellent choice. However, if they have complex care needs associated with memory impairment, then you may want to consider memory care, or an assisted living community that also includes a special care unit for persons with dementia. Our Senior Living Advisors can help you and your family figure out a plan together.
What did you think of our breakdown of the differences between assisted living and memory care? If we’ve forgotten anything, let us know in the comments below!