Assisted living versus memory care. This is not really a debate or a competition, but rather, two levels of senior living that many people do not understand the differences between. As a result, the two terms are often incorrectly interchanged. This is unfortunate, because seniors who require care in a senior living community need amenities, assistance, and a philosophy that corresponds to their situations. And amid the assisted living versus memory care “debate,” they often don’t receive what they truly need.
Amenities are crucial in choosing a senior living community because some vary widely, not just by care level, but also by community. If loved ones aren’t receiving the proper care from the communities they reside in, quality of life suffers and additional stress lands upon the adult children, who might experience guilt about the “home” they placed their parents in. Therefore, defining assisted living and memory care, and the amenities each should entail, is important as you research senior living communities.
Assisted Living vs. Memory Care: Defining Each
Establishing definitions for assisted living and memory care is important so you can better pinpoint which option would most benefit your loved one. As already stated, many people mistakenly believe the two terms are the same. Because they aren’t, understanding the distinction is imperative.
Assisted living is senior living in which some degree of caregiving is offered to residents who do not have dementia. The minds of seniors in assisted living may be sharp, but physically, residents may struggle with moving around, self-care, preparing meals, or other needs. Some seniors in assisted living may require help with activities of daily life (ADLs) such as bathing, getting dressed and undressed, or administering medication. Other seniors are fine with ADLs but simply need help with moving around the community or doing their laundry. Assisted living provides to seniors the help they need so they can lead active, engaged lives as their conditions permit.
Memory care is geared toward seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Physically, they may be mobile and get around fine, but the mental limitations of their dementia require more supervision, particularly with medication. Note, some seniors in assisted living communities may also require a degree of memory care (or vice versa), which is why asking about amenities is so critical.
Essential Assisted Living Amenities
Before delving into specific amenities, we want to emphasize that many basic amenities should be present in any senior living community you investigate—independent living, assisted living, or memory care. Features such as high-quality food, well maintained grounds, bright living spaces and caring staffers are standard for the best communities. What follows are additional essential amenities you should seek in assisted living:
- Apartment-style living: A room with just a bed, a bathroom, and a TV isn’t a home—it’s a dormitory. The best assisted living communities offer cozy apartments that might include a balcony, a kitchen, and plenty of room to decorate, entertain, and feel at home.
- Restaurant-style dining: No more cafeteria service of cafeteria-tasting food—restaurant-style dining permits seniors to sit down and enjoy a chef-prepared meal with friends in a classy setting. Also, see if the community offers a special dining program for residents who cannot use silverware as easily.
- Round-the-clock, professional staff: Residents may need assistance any time of day, so staffers must be properly trained and available whenever needed.
- Emergency call system: Whether from pendants they wear or from call buttons in their rooms, residents can quickly alert staff in case of emergency.
- Wellness programs and exercise options: Wellness programs might include formal physical therapy or simply chances for seniors to be active. The best communities also include various fitness options, including an exercise room with machines, yoga and tai chi classes, or a swimming pool.
- Active social calendars: Engaged assisted living includes formal activities and social calendars, as well as time and space for residents to simply congregate with friends.
- Housekeeping, laundry, and concierge: Outstanding senior living communities offer an array of services to seniors to relieve some of their burden and make their lives as stress-free as possible.
Important Memory Care Amenities
Many assisted living-specific amenities also cater to memory care residents, but seniors with dementia require specialized attention from senior communities that assisted living might not necessarily offer. These important amenities include:
- Individual care plans: No two memory care residents are the same, and their care plans shouldn’t be, either. The best communities do not take a cookie-cutter approach to care, but rather, tailor strategies to each individual resident’s needs.
- Medication supervision: Most memory care residents cannot administer their own medicine, so staffers are trained to do so with diligence and compassion.
- Structured guidance and activities: Seniors with dementia issues often strive on routine, which the best memory care communities develop and adhere to according to the individual’s needs. Activities emphasize engagement, recognize that residents may be at different stages of dementia, and may incorporate physical activity (exercise has been shown to benefit Alzheimer’s patients).
- On-site Alzheimer’s support group: Communities may offer support groups for early-stage Alzheimer’s patients as well as their families.
- Dementia care specialists: Dementia caregivers must possess an advanced set of skills to residents more so than a staffer just working with seniors in assisted living would—and also must bring a unique attitude to compassionately care for the seniors to whom they attend. The best communities provide ongoing training for employees so that they can provide the highest level of care to residents.
- Security systems: Wandering is a major concern with Alzheimer’s patients, so memory care communities must be safe and secure to prevent residents from leaving or otherwise being harmed.
With this many amenities to consider for assisted living and for memory care, searching for the perfect community for your loved one can seem like a daunting task. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Senior living communities that offer all these amenities and more are out there; do your homework, visit communities, ask plenty of questions, and diligently work toward the best decision for you, your family and, most importantly, your loved one.