7 Key Differences Between Memory Care and Assisted Living	29 Oct, 2021

When your loved one experiences cognitive loss, one of the most important decisions you should help them make is senior living options. For people with dementia, there are commonly two choices: assisted living and memory care. But which is the best option for your loved one? That’s something you will learn in this article.

What's the difference between memory care and assisted living?

It’s crucial that you choose the right senior living option for a loved one at the very beginning. It can prevent potential issues like relocation, rising healthcare costs, and stress. So we’ll explore the seven key differences between the two.

1. Level of care provided

A huge differentiation between assisted living and memory care is the level of care provided. In assisted living, residents only require minor assistance in medication reminders, bathing, and escort service whenever they go out. Residents in assisted living suffer from varying health conditions, such as sleep issues, incontinence, stroke, or kidney disease, which urged them to seek help. More importantly, it offers assistance to residents only when needed and without any expectation for consistent care.

Meanwhile, memory care focuses on providing consistent care to residents with cognitive impairment. Residents enjoy around-the-clock care from trained staff. Since the unique care requirements of people living with dementia are higher, they receive more attention and care. Choosing memory care gives residents the benefit of getting the help they need whenever, wherever.

Take note that if your loved one has early-stage dementia, they may live in assisted living. The care provided in memory care for people with mild dementia may not differ much in assisted living.

2. Level of safety

Again, residents in assisted living have only minor health concerns, so the care team doesn’t have to monitor them 24/7. Residents are capable and independent and can care for themselves most of the time. When it comes to safety, they are conscious of what’s considered a safe situation and not.

In contrast, dementia is a progressive condition, so memory loss gets severe. The affected senior may wander or exhibit symptoms that are challenging to manage. That’s why memory care communities offer enhanced safety features to ensure that those who wander do so in a safe environment. Memory care units have security alarm systems, easy-to-navigate hallways, enclosed outdoor spaces, keypad entrances and exits, tracking bracelets, and more.

3. Supervision requirement

Many assisted living residents can still drive, exercise, and do many other tasks that a healthy person does. They don’t necessarily require full supervision since their level of independence is high. Nevertheless, the community does offer 24-hour supervision and assistance to those who need it.

Memory care residents need constant supervision and care to live safely and well. On-site, there’s 24-hour care staff who pays close attention to the residents’ behavior, such as wandering, hallucinations, and aggressiveness. Due to the changing care needs of those with a cognitive condition, there’s less focus on independence. Instead, activities are directed towards increasing autonomy and accomplishments.

4. Layout of living spaces

Many assisted living residents are self-sufficient, so their living space is similar to a regular apartment equipped with a full kitchen and other amenities.

Memory care has more thoughtful designed spaces that cater to the special needs of those with dementia. Due to safety reasons, apartments don’t have a kitchen. Units also have simple floor plans, furniture is placed strategically, and doors have contrasting colors to help reduce confusion and anxiety.

5. Staffing and staff qualifications

Both assisted living and memory care have 24/7 staff on-site who help with various aspects of daily living. The difference is that one memory care staff gives care to only about five residents during waking hours.

Meanwhile, one assisted living care staff can care for up to 14 or more residents. There are no regulations regarding staffing in assisted living. Given that residents don’t need consistent care, a staff-to-resident ratio of 1:14 is okay.

Another thing is that memory care staff undergo special and rigorous training to handle residents who wander, hallucinate, or are aggressive. To do this, care staff who provide memory care services take a 4-hour dementia-specific training. On top of that, direct care staff receive 12 hours of competency­-based Alzheimer’s education every year.

6. Activities

Programs in assisted living are focused on increasing engagement. The activities may include visiting parks, museums, public libraries, shopping, and watching musical performances.

People with dementia are less likely to get involved with such events due to their complex health conditions. At most, activities are going to be inside the community, with the aim to reduce the impact of memory loss. Some activities may include brain games, like puzzles, scrabble, and arts and crafts.

7. Costs

Assisted living residents can go to bed on their own, go to the dining room when it’s time for lunch or dinner, or roam around the community without the care staff being worried about their safety. They don’t need 24/7 care and attention, so it costs less than memory care. The higher the level of care needed, the more expensive it is.

Memory care costs more than assisted living due to residents needing consistent care all the time. The staff need to monitor and supervise the residents constantly. The staff also offer emotional support besides the physical care support that they provide. The list of amenities, extra services offered, staff-to-resident ratio, and other features contribute to why memory care is more expensive.

Frequently Asked Questions: 

1. What are the services provided in memory care?

Services offered in memory care include:

  • 24-hour care assistance
  • Activities and therapies that enhance memory
  • Behavioral support
  • Housekeeping service
  • Chef-prepared meals
  • Transportation service
  • Medication management
  • Personalized care
  • Emergency monitoring and care
  • Collaborative care planning

2. What are the services provided in assisted living?

Services offered in assisted living are:

  • 24-hour staff assistance
  • Social programs that include trips
  • Housekeeping service
  • Chef-prepared meals
  • Car service to appointments or errands
  • Medication management
  • Incontinence care
  • Personal care

Services in assisted living are generally tailored to independent people. Meanwhile, memory care services are catered to people with debilitating health conditions, so it’s more comprehensive.

3. What are the levels of care in assisted living?

Although assisted living is known to offer care for people with minimal care needs, many communities nowadays offer two to four levels of care, ranging from residential living, rehabilitation, memory care, and skilled nursing.

4. What does memory care mean in assisted living?

An assisted living community that has a separate wing, building, or neighborhood dedicated to residents with cognitive impairment can offer memory care services. Some residents live in an assisted living wing and later move into memory care when the disease reaches the late stage. This setup eases the transition from assisted to memory care living while keeping that sense of familiarity in the environment.

5. Can a person with dementia live in assisted living?

Yes. A person with mild or moderate dementia can live in assisted living for some time. Since memory loss at the early stage of the disease is still manageable, assisted living services may suffice.

6. Is memory care more expensive than assisted living?

Yes, memory care is more expensive due to many factors. One is the level of care the care team provides to the residents. Other factors include the community’s security, the provision of consistent care, and the staff-to-resident ratio.

7. What option is right for your loved one?

That depends on your loved one’s state of health. Generally, the severity of the memory loss and symptoms will determine whether assisted or memory care is the right option. Be sure to ask your doctor for advice before making a decision.

Conclusion

When deciding matters about senior living, it involves the entire family. Learning the key differences between the two can empower you to make the right care decision for a loved one. Making the right decision at the very beginning can reduce any further costs associated with relocation and hospitalization.

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Syed Rizvi


Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.

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