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

Merritt Whitley
By Merritt WhitleyJuly 17, 2020

If your elderly parent requires full-time care, you may be considering memory care or a nursing home. Both of these long-term care types provide 24-hour supervision, meals, and help with everyday activities such as dressing and medication management. But memory care and nursing homes differ in distinct and important ways.

What is memory care?

Memory care — also called Alzheimer’s care or dementia care homes — provides housing, support services, and various levels of health care for people with Alzheimer’s disease, other types of dementia, or other forms of memory loss.

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This type of care focuses on enhancing the quality of life for people with dementia, while minimizing wandering, frustration, and depression. Memory care facilities provide a secure area, often with alarmed exit doors, and employ specially trained staff.

Dementia care homes are uniquely designed to reduce confusion and prevent wandering with features like:

  • 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

Unique treatments for dementia patients include:

Who can benefit from memory care?

Memory care units have trained staff to help prevent and minimize dementia behaviors, such as:

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

What’s the cost of memory care?

The median cost of memory care was around $5,000 to $5,250 a month in 2019, according to elder care cost figures from Genworth. Memory care costs fluctuate based on location and community. Pricing can range anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 a month.

What’s a nursing home?

Sometimes called skilled nursing facilities or convalescent homes, nursing homes provide housing, 24-hour monitoring, meal services, help with everyday activities, and medical assistance for debilitated seniors. Seniors in nursing homes don’t require hospital care but can’t live independently. They may be bedridden, in need of a wheelchair, or in need of daily nursing care.

Nursing home care requires a physician’s prescription and physical exam before a resident can move in. Medicare’s nursing home compare tool can help you find detailed information about every Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing home in the U.S.

Two types of care options are available:

  • Short-term care with rehabilitation services is available to people recovering from surgery or an acute injury or illness.
  • Long-term care assists people with cognitive disorders, terminal illnesses, or chronic conditions.

Nursing homes services may include:

  • Bathing, toileting, dressing, and other activities of daily living
  • Medication management
  • Emergency and routine dental services
  • Meals and nutritional assistance
  • Rehabilitation
  • Laboratory testing

Possible therapies include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Respiratory therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Intravenous (IV) therapies
  • Wound care

Who can benefit from a nursing home?

An elderly person with extensive medical needs that require skilled nursing can benefit most from a nursing home. This environment is best for seniors who:

  • Require 24-hour medical care or supervision
  • Experience frequent falls or accidents
  • Need help with dressing, bathing, and other activities of daily living
  • Have behavioral, mobility, or wellness issues
  • Can’t manage medications correctly
  • Need meals and nutritional assistance
  • Require rehabilitation or care from a specialist

What’s the cost of a nursing home?

The cost of a nursing home depends on your state and whether it’s private or owned by the state. The average cost in the U.S. in 2019 was $247 a day or $7,512 a month.

Care in states like Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut costs as much as $452 to $907 per day. Nursing home care elsewhere — such as in Missouri, Louisiana, or Oklahoma — costs significantly less, around $174 or $182 a day.

How do I decide which senior living option is best?

Speak with your family, your elderly loved one, and their doctor or case manager to better understand their health care needs.

  • Memory care, or dementia care, is best for people with memory loss because of its customized layout, safety features, and dementia-focused therapies. To learn more, refer to our best questions to ask a memory care community when calling or touring.
  • Nursing homes offer skilled nursing services, a variety of therapies, and intensive medical treatments for those who can no longer live or function by themselves. Use our nursing home checklist to learn more about the admittance process, and check out Medicare’s guide to evaluating nursing homes.

Our free 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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