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Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

Looking for the best placement option for the elderly adult in your life can be an overwhelming and confusing process. There are many different types and levels of care, and sometimes the new terminology starts to blend together making it hard to decipher what is provided at different levels of care. This guide is intended to give you some clarity and hopefully make your decision easier.

Assisted Living and Memory Care often go hand-in-hand. Both levels of care are typically administered in facilities specially designed for aging adults, but sometimes specially trained caregivers can be hired to come to a private residence for care.


Oftentimes you will find that an assisted living facility has a special unit or wing of memory care located within its walls. This is very helpful for residents who need to move levels of care as they age, but don’t want or are unable to move facilities. Other times assisted living and memory care are completely separate facilities. It really comes down to what’s available in your area. Memory care units will often have more security features to prevent residents from wandering, as well as security guards or male orderlies for patients who become combative or aggressive.


Memory care is usually more expensive than assisted living, and it’s because there is more care required in memory care. Staff members are typically paid more because they have more training, there are more check-ins every day, and most memory care patients need much more physical and medical assistance than assisted living residents need.

To see a recent study was done on the annual cost of memory care and how to plan for it click here.


Caregivers who work in assisted living communities can often transition easily to memory care, but there are training courses available to better help caregivers who care for people with cognitive decline. It is important that caregivers working with memory care patients understand the difficulties of the diseases and know how to execute the treatment options that are available. It is equally important that staff members know how to effectively communicate with their memory care patients.

The staff-to-patient ratio is smaller for memory care units, and more safety check-ins are done during the day and evenings. Because of this memory care units tend to have a smaller population than assisted living communities. In either situation, the law requires that a registered nurse (RN) be onsite for a certain amount of hours per day.

Activities of Daily Living

The main difference between assisted living and memory care is that assisted living caters to those aging adults who need assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), while memory care is for those adults who need assistance with ADLs plus a higher level of medical and personal care because they have been diagnosed with cognitive declines such as dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Residents in assisted living are more independent than those in memory care. Some ADLs include:

  • Daily bathing, grooming, and toileting
  • Moving from one place to another and exercise
  • Paying bills, grocery shopping, and running errands (only for assisted living residents)
  • Social events and activities (for memory care these would be held at the facility)
  • Maintaining nutrition


Due to the nature of cognitive decline, memory care units offer more specialized services than assisted living facilities. You can expect to find specially designed services regarding meals, activities, room and facility features, medical needs such as different kinds of therapy, and staff availability and training. Assisted living facilities reach a much broader clientele than memory care and so they can offer more general services that meet the needs of many.

For a more in-depth look at the exact services of both memory care and assisted living to provide read our Guides to Assisted Living Services and Memory Care Services.

If you are unsure about the level of care that your aging loved one needs or you would like to speak with someone who can help answer your questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to a senior care coordinator. A care coordinator can assist you in any part of your journey at no cost to you.

What Services Does Memory Care Provide for Seniors?

Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, and cognitive decline are all medical terms most of us are familiar with, and it’s an unfortunate fact that these debilitating illnesses are becoming more and more common in senior health care. If your aging loved one is suffering from one of the many different forms of dementia or has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important that you know what memory care options are available to you.

Oftentimes cognitive illnesses like dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease progress to the point where it is no longer safe for the patient to live on their own anymore. In some cases, they may be a danger to their spouse, other family members, or in-home caregivers as well. Memory care is a special form of care designed to treat and care for patients with cognitive decline, and it can take place in the private residence of the patient or at a senior facility.

When looking for the best care option for your specific situation, here are some services and amenities you may want to consider for your aging loved one.

Trained Staff

This may be one of the most important factors when deciding on a memory care solution. Whether at the home or in a facility, you want to make sure that the caregivers have previous experience working with memory care patients. It takes a very patient and compassionate spirit to care for patients with cognitive decline, so finding the right personality combined with the right experience is very important.

If considering placing your loved one in a community, there are typically specific wings or hallways designated for memory care patients, and there are specially trained caregivers and security features in place for the safety of everyone. There will be locked and key coded main doors to prevent residents from wandering and getting lost. However, there should be common living areas like dining rooms, living rooms, and patios or gardens where patients can roam freely. There are typically male orderlies available to help with physically aggressive or combative patients.

Meals and Housekeeping

Whether using an in-home caregiver or placing your loved one in a community, staff should be providing three meals a day and some housekeeping services. Since memory care patients are often changeable from day to day (or even hour to hour), it’s important that their nutritional and personal needs are being met regardless of what kind of day they are having. Laundry is also an amenity that should be offered, as well as assistance with cleaning, toileting, and dressing.

Medical Treatment

Since there are new therapies and treatments for cognitive decline becoming available every year, it’s important that the people spending the most time with your loved one know how to best care for them. Trained caregivers are allowed to remind patients to take their medication, hand them the correct dosage, and keep records of when and how much was given or taken. However, only medically licensed professionals such as doctors and nurses can actually administer medication to patients. Caregivers should also know how to identify and respond to a medical emergency.

Often times a community will offer transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, and depending on the diagnosis, sometime therapists will come directly to the patient.

Social Life

If placing your loved one in a memory care community, there should be a wide range of social activities that are offered. It is very important for seniors with a cognitive decline to stimulate and engage their brains, and to not zone out in front of the television or sleep all day. Some typical activities might include a movie theater, game night, religious services, gardening, exercise classes, art activities, and musical concerts.  If the senior in memory care is still somewhat independent trips to the store, senior center, and local day trips can also be appealing.

Realizing your aging loved one needs memory care can be a difficult idea to accept, but remember that you are not alone and there are trained senior care coordinators who are available to help you every step of the way. Sometimes it helps to have a third party who isn’t apart of the family to speak into your situation and see things from a different perspective. If you need help hiring a caregiver or placing a senior in memory care, don’t hesitate to reach out and we will be happy to assist you.

Methods for Addressing Difficult Dementia Behaviors

It can be devastating when someone you know and love has been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, or another form of cognitive decline. It is true that every year more and more seniors are being diagnosed with memory loss conditions, but every year there are new therapies, medications, and technologies being introduced to help combat those diseases.

Victims of cognitive decline can exhibit behaviors such as fear of people, places, and events that they were once comfortable with. Confusion about when and where events are happening is also common and can lead to wandering out of the home or not being able to find the way back home. Late stages of the disease can cause anger and physical aggressiveness. Insomnia and night terrors are also common and can wreak havoc on a family’s sleep schedule.

Millions of dollars in research is being poured into finding the causes and ultimately the cure for cognitive decline, but until that happens here are a few methods to help ease the daily challenges of any aging adults in your life suffering from cognitive decline.


This is also called reminiscence therapy and may seem like an oxymoron when attempting to use it on someone with cognitive decline, but sometimes it can help to bring a calm or peacefulness to the aging adult. Looking at old family photos, listening to music from the adult’s 30’s and 40’s, and asking them to share stories about their past are all simple and effective ways to bring some joy to their minds. Trying to always keep them in the ‘here and now’ or correcting them when they mistake a family member for someone else can lead to frustration and anxiety.

It is very hard when a parent or grandparent no longer recognizes you or mixes you up with someone else, but remember that they aren’t doing it on purpose and in their minds that is the reality. Try to remain patient, calm, and always have a smile on your face so they know you mean well.


Social and mental stimulation are very important and can be very effective, and the great thing is there are many different ways to accomplish this. If your loved one is living in a senior care or memory care community there should be group time where conversation, music, and even storytelling are involved. Doing jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, playing bingo, completing crosswords, and playing cards are all forms of mental stimulation.

If puzzles aren’t their thing encourage your loved one in something they do enjoy, such as playing an instrument, painting, gardening, or reading. Beware of sticking your loved one in front of a TV and letting them zone out for large parts of the day, as this can have the opposite effect of stimulation.

Sometimes reiterating a loved one’s name, address, phone number, and family members’ names every day can help bring them to present day, but for some patients, this serves as a frustration so use your best judgement.


Physical activity is always important and very beneficial in every stage of a person’s life. It may be tempting to neglect exercise or movement when an aging adult has been diagnosed with cognitive decline, but don’t give up completely. Depending on the stage of the disease, encourage your loved one to take a walk or go to an exercise class a few times a week. Swimming or water aerobics is an exceptional choice due to its ease on the joints and the body in general. Exercise has been proven time and time again to lift the spirits of people suffering from depression and other mental illnesses.

If your loved one allows it, don’t neglect physical tough. Hugging or holding their hand can be very comforting and remind them that they are not alone even if their mind is telling them differently. ‘Feel good’ hormones are released when we have a physical connection with another person, so make sure your aging loved one can feel the love!

Medication and Food

There is no cure for cognitive decline, but medications can help slow the disease and manage some of the symptoms. Antidepressants can help with mood swings, and cholinesterase inhibitors help slow the breakdown of certain brain chemicals known to affect memory and judgement. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about possible solutions for your specific situation.

We all know that what we put into our bodies greatly affects their performance, and it’s no different for senior suffering from cognitive decline. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is essential in addressing cognitive decline for aging adults. Some great brain-boosting foods are:

  • Vegetables (fresh or lightly cooked in healthy oil)
  • Fruits (especially berries)
  • Nuts (raw or roasted with little or no salt)
  • Legumes (beans)
  • Fish and chicken
  • Whole grain bread

Limiting processed food, sugar, and excessive fats will not only keep the brain working properly, but it will also help the body feel better as well.

The diagnosis of cognitive decline can feel overwhelming and burdensome, but you do not have to walk this road alone. Reaching out to a senior care coordinator can help you and your family on this difficult journey. If you need help arranging a caregiver, respite care, or placement in a memory care facility a care coordinator can answer all your questions and use their experience to help support you and your family.

How to Find the Right Specialized Care Facility for A Loved One with Dementia

It can be draining enough to face the fact that your parent or loved one may have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, or another type of this devastating illness. Your fears and insecurities may become exacerbated further when it becomes clear that it’s time to transition them to a long-term, specialized care facility.

But rest assured, it is possible to find the perfect place for your loved one to receive exactly the type and level of care they’ll need, so you can rest easy knowing they’re healthy and happy. Start by evaluating long-term care facilities in the following areas.  

Level of Care Available

Every Alzheimer’s and dementia patient is different, and each requires a personalized care plan. Make sure to examine the range of care options available for residents at each facility you consider. See how they deal specifically with memory care, and if they’re equipped to handle cases if they worsen.

While it may be time to move your loved one to a long-term care facility, they might not need 24-hour care or constant monitoring just yet. However, you’ll want to be sure any facility you consider can provide that 24-hour memory care if there comes a point where your loved one’s disease progresses to the advanced stages. It’s likely they’ll need to rely completely on caregivers at that point, and it’s much less jarring and disorienting for your loved one if they don’t need to be moved to a new residential facility.

Long-term Care Facility Staff

Depending on the stage of your loved one’s Alzheimer’s and any other ailments they may have, you may want to research a facility that specializes exclusively in memory care. All doctors, caretakers and therapists on staff at this type of facility are nearly always trained in how to handle patients requiring memory care and have experience in the field. They’re then better-able to handle the mood swings, wandering, delusion and emotional outbursts that are common.

The goal is to identify staff that can consistently meet your loved one from a place of compassion and care, rather than exasperation. Alzheimer’s can be a very difficult disease to handle in patients, so it’s important to align yourself with facility staff who are positive and experienced.

Activities Available

Your parent’s quality of life can be best enhanced with opportunities to engage in activities that keep their mind and body sharp. Residents often report a love of physical activity and exercise in long-term care facilities, which can include yoga, swimming, aerobics and more.

Research supports the link between physical exercise and the slowing of Alzheimer’s symptoms, which is further acknowledged by organizations on the ground like the Alzheimer’s Society. Language-learning classes, art and other creative or intellectual opportunities that stimulate the mind can further contribute to the well-being of residents.
If the time has come to search for long-term senior care placement, we can help! Nestvy offers completely free resources to ensure your loved one receives the care they need. Learn more about how to find the perfect long-term care facility or connect with one of our thoroughly vetted caregiving partners.