A Place for Mom

Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonAugust 25, 2017
Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

Assisted living and memory care are two fast growing options for long-term senior care. Do you know the difference between them?

Find out more about the two types of care, including cost, how to choose a community for your loved one and services offered there.

Assisted Living and Long-Term Care

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.

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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?

If your loved one is still active and vital, but can no longer live independently and needs assistance with everyday activities such as bathing, dressing or eating, 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 medication management and transportation, 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 budget and preferences.

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.

Assisted Living vs. 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.

Long-Term Care 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, 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. The average cost for a one-bedroom assisted living apartment is $3,300 per month depending on your location. 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, 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.

You can use these tools to help determine what the cost of long-term care would be in your area:

Services Offered in Assisted Living and Memory Care

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:

  • Access to medical care
  • Emergency call systems
  • Health and exercise programs
  • Housekeeping and laundry service
  • Social activities and programs
  • 24-hour staff supervision and security
  • Three daily meals
  • Transportation

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.

Get more information on Memory Care costs and services.

Should I Choose Assisted Living or Memory Care?

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 has your experience with assisted living or memory care been like? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below.

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Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson

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