Understanding the Difference: Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

Jun 19


Daniela Moore

Daniela Moore

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When aging loved ones struggle with daily activities, long-term care solutions like assisted living and memory care become essential. Assisted living offers support for seniors who need help with daily tasks but remain cognitively intact, providing housing, meals, and social activities. Memory care, designed for individuals with dementia, offers specialized environments, enhanced safety measures, and staff trained in dementia care.


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If your aging loved one can no longer navigate through life on their own and struggles to manage typical day-to-day activities safely,Understanding the Difference: Assisted Living vs. Memory Care Articles it's time to consider long-term care solutions. 

Senior living alternatives vary in terms of the level of assistance provided, features and amenities, staff training, and cost.  

Thus, finding the perfect type of care and navigating the new home can be emotional, overwhelming, and difficult for you and your aging loved one. 

Naturally, you want the best care for your elderly parent, spouse, or family member, fitting their health circumstances and unique needs — but also attainable to your family's budget. 

To help you make the right choice, in this article, we discuss two of the most common options for senior care: assisted living and memory care. 

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the two senior living solutions as you weigh your options. 

Assisted Living: What is it & Who is it for? 

Assisted living is a long-term senior care facility that assists seniors with daily tasks, yet allows a level of independence for their elderly residents. 

Usually, assisted living facilities include a small apartment, housekeeping services, one to three community meals a day, and organized social activities. 

Assisted living facilities are made for the elderly who need assistance with daily activities, such as taking medicine, bathing, and toileting, but still have their reasoning skills intact. 

Memory Care: What is it & Who is it for? 

Memory care facilities are specialized, secured senior living facilities designed to cater to the needs of patients with some form of dementia. 

These facilities, like the assisted living ones, provide their residents with housing, meals, and help with activities of daily living as well. However, memory care solutions also provide amenities that address and alleviate the unique needs and difficulties of people with declining cognitive abilities. 

For instance, memory care facilities are of milder colors, decluttered, and with clear signage, all of which are therapeutic to patients with memory loss. Staff members typically have specialized training in dementia care, to ensure both physical and mental needs of patients are met. 

Moreover, memory care facilities have a smaller staff-to-patient ratio as dementia patients have greater care needs, such as brushing their teeth, eating, showering, and dressing. 

Finally, memory care facilities address the concerns of caregivers and family members of dementia patients by providing safety and security from wandering. 

Assisted Living vs. Memory Care: Key Differences 

Both memory care and assisted living facilities provide elderly residents with housing, meals, and assistance with daily activities. However, memory care offers a specialized environment, greater security, and trained staff for individuals with dementia. 

The following are unique benefits memory care facilities offer patients suffering from cognitive decline: 

# Specialized Environment  

Dementia affects all five senses, not just memory and cognition. And memory care facilities are, thus, specially designed to minimize symptoms of anxiety and reduce the chances of patient injury. 

For instance, many memory care facilities feature well-defined communal spaces, color-coded walls for easy navigation, and outdoor gardens for patients to enjoy nature safely. 

More so, safety precautions like door alarms and environmental considerations like motion-sensor lights and one-touch sinks allow residents to have a safer and more independent living experience in a memory care facility. 

On the contrary, assisted living communities do not offer such measures, creating a potentially unsafe environment for dementia patients. 

# Safety Precautions  

As six in ten dementia patients will wander at least once in their lifetime, safety is a major consideration for those in need of a memory care facility. 

While some assisted living facilities offer safety measures such as in-room emergency alerts and daily check-ins, elderly with memory loss require increased safety precautions. 

Therefore, memory care facilities generally have more advanced measures to keep residents safe, like locked entrances, keypad-enabled entries, obscured exits, doorbells that signal entering and exiting, and wearable devices for tracking patients. 

# Trained Staff  

Memory care staff members typically undergo additional training focused on addressing the specific issues that people living with dementia often face, such as swallowing difficulties, wandering, and anxiety. 

Furthermore, most states require memory care employees to attend continuing education programs to help them understand the brains of people living with dementia and to master strategies for mitigating distress and supporting residents. 

In addition, caregivers at memory care facilities are trained to prevent and manage challenging dementia behaviors, like wandering and aggression. 

# Tailored Activities  

While assisted living facilities prioritize entertaining their residents, memory care centers provide activities tailored to the unique needs of elderly individuals with dementia. 

For instance, many memory care facilities offer music, art, pet, or reminiscence therapy, all of which have been found to promote relaxation, slow down cognitive decline, and help access different brain areas of those experiencing cognitive impairments. 

# Encouraging Dining Experience  

Late-stage dementia can lead to significant eating and drinking difficulties for patients. They may forget to eat or drink, as well as struggle to recognize when they are hungry, thirsty, or full. 

That's why patients in memory care facilities are provided with an environment that promotes independence and dignity when dining. 

For instance, residents are given various food options to help them maintain control over their diet. They are also served in a calm environment and provided with adaptive plates or utensils. 

Making the Best Choice for Your Elderly Loved One 

When deciding between assisted living and memory care, it's important to consider your loved one's type of dementia, its impacts, and how quickly it is expected to progress. 

For example, some seniors may require a higher level of supervision early on after the diagnosis, while for others, this need may arise later. 

Seeking input from your loved one's doctors is crucial when making this decision to find the care that will enable your aging family member to thrive. 

Finally, it's important to consider your loved one's feedback and to determine when to move from assisted living to memory care