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Memory Care vs. Nursing Homes: What’s the Difference?

Merritt Whitley
By Merritt WhitleyNovember 4, 2020
Elderly women playing cards in a senior living facility.

If your elderly parent with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia requires full-time care, you may be considering memory care or a nursing home. While both of these long-term care options support seniors with memory loss, they differ in important ways.

Learn about the benefits, services, and costs of memory care and nursing homes to make an informed decision when it’s time to look for senior care for your loved one.

What’s the difference between memory care and nursing homes?

Both memory care and nursing homes provide 24-hour care, supervision, and meals. Staff also help with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing, and medication management. However, memory care, sometimes called Alzheimer’s care, specializes in caring for people with memory loss. This type of care focuses on enhancing the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in a secure environment to prevent wandering and minimize confusion.

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Nursing homes, also called skilled nursing facilities or convalescent homes, provide care and medical assistance for debilitated seniors. Seniors in nursing homes don’t require hospital care, but can’t care for themselves or live independently. They may be bedridden, in need of a wheelchair, or require daily nursing care.

Memory care: what to expect

Memory care provides 24-hour specialized care for people with memory loss. Staff at memory care facilities receive thorough, regular dementia care training to help prevent and minimize difficult dementia behaviors.

Memory care communities rely on experienced, skilled staff to help prevent and minimize dementia symptoms, like:

  • Sundown syndrome
  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Wandering
  • Aggressive or combative behavior
  • Hallucinations

Memory-enhancing activities, therapies, and programs at memory care facilities also help improve quality of life for seniors with memory loss. These unique services may include:

Safety is a key priority at memory care facilities. These communities are equipped with safety features like locked and alarmed exit doors to prevent wandering. Many memory care facilities are also uniquely designed to reduce confusion and help orient seniors with memory loss.

Some layout and design features at memory care may include:

  • Color-coded walls
  • Clearly defined shared spaces
  • Enclosed gardens or courtyards
  • Memory boxes outside residents’ doors with personalized memorabilia to guide them and make them feel at home
  • Keypad entrances for family or staff

Nursing homes: what to expect

Nursing home residents often have serious health issues or chronic conditions that require intensive care and round-the-clock care and supervision.

Two types of care options are available at nursing homes:

  • Short-term care. Rehabilitation services at nursing homes are available to people recovering from surgery, an acute injury, or illness.
  • Long-term care. Nursing homes provide long-term care to people with cognitive disorders, terminal illnesses, or chronic conditions.

In addition to help with activities of daily living, nursing homes services may include medication management, wound care, IV therapies, and respiratory therapy. They can also incorporate rehabilitative services, like speech, occupational, and physical therapy. Medicare’s nursing home compare tool can help you find detailed information about every Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing home in the U.S.

Nursing home care requires a physician’s prescription and physical exam before a resident can move in. Seniors may qualify for nursing home care if they:

  • Need rehabilitative services
  • Require continuous supervision
  • Need help with daily activities, such as eating, bathing, and dressing
  • Need assistance managing health conditions and medications

However, nursing home qualification requirements differ from one state to the next. It’s important to check with your local Medicaid or government county agency to learn about your state’s specific nursing home qualification requirements.

Memory care vs. nursing homes: what services are offered?

ServicesMemory CareNursing HomesMeal servicesxxHousekeeping and laundry servicesxxSocial activitiesxxMedication managementxxHelp with daily activities (ADLs)xxSpecialized care for patients with memory lossxx24-hour care and supervisionxxSecured entrances and exits to prevent wanderingxxRehabilitative therapies as neededxMemory-enhancing therapiesxUnique facility layout and design to reduce confusionxTransportation to appointmentsx

Memory care and nursing home costs

Many factors affect the cost of memory care and nursing homes, including location, whether a space is shared, and the type of services provided.

  • Memory care cost. The monthly median cost of memory care is $5,250. However, it may vary depending on the community and location, and may range from $3,000 to $7,000 or more a month.
  • Nursing home care cost. The cost of nursing home care depends on your state and whether it’s private or owned by the state. The monthly median cost of a semi-private nursing home room in the U.S. is $7,513. The median cost of a private nursing home room in the U.S. is $8,517 a month.

How do I decide between memory care and nursing home care?

Memory care is for people with Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia, or other types of memory loss. People with advanced memory loss who require 24-hour supervision, and those who have dementia symptoms that are difficult to manage, such as aggressive behaviors, often benefit from the knowledgeable and compassionate approach used at memory care facilities. The customized layouts, safety features, and memory-focused therapies at memory care facilities also help improve quality of life for seniors with memory loss.

However, an elderly person with serious medical needs who requires 24-hour supervision may benefit from nursing home services, where skilled nursing care and rehabilitative therapies are offered.

If you’re unsure about what type of care will best fit your loved one’s situation, talk with your family, your elderly loved one, and their doctor or case manager to better understand their care needs.

Our free consultation service with Senior Living Advisors have helped thousands of families find senior living for their aging family members. Contact them to discuss your loved one’s needs and available care options in your area.

Merritt Whitley
Author
Merritt Whitley

Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.

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