Shopping for senior living options can be scary, especially if you or a loved one has a serious medical condition that warrants an immediate move. Both memory care and assisted living offer supportive care to people with a range of health issues, including cognitive impairments. Memory care, however, caters specifically to those with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia through dementia-friendly activities and staff trained in the psychological and physical effects of cognitive impairments. For some families, it makes sense to start with assisted living, while for others, memory care is the immediate winning option. Here’s what you need to know as you weigh your options, and how to find memory care facilities near me:

Memory Care vs. Assisted Living: Staff Training

Memory care communities and assisted living communities both share similar staff, such as nurses and nursing assistants. However, memory care communities boast staff with additional training and experience with the issues people living with dementia often face — such as swallowing difficulties, wandering, and anxiety. Staff working in memory care communities, from the administrator to the housekeepers, are required by most states to attend continuing education classes that help them understand the brains of people living with dementia while mastering strategies for mitigating distress and supporting residents. If your loved one seems anxious or has problem behaviors, or you have trouble supporting and reassuring them at home, memory care is usually the superior option.

Memory Care vs. Assisted Living: Specialized Activities

Did you know that certain activities, such as music therapy, can help your loved one with dementia access different parts of their brain? While assisted living communities focus on entertaining residents, memory care communities offer dementia-specific activities tailored to the unique cognitive needs of people with dementia. Seniors living with dementia often express their distress with challenging behaviors. The right properly timed intervention can prevent these expressions of worry, instead keeping seniors busy and involved with their environment.

Memory Care vs. Assisted Living: Fine Dining

Assisted living communities offer three meals per day, often in a wonderfully social setting. Memory care communities not only offer meals and socialization around the table, but also offer an environment that is conducive to independence and dignity for those living with dementia. Dementia can complicate nutrition. Memory care communities offer specialized diets to ensure residents are eating the calories they need in a way that best suits their current needs and preferences. Residents are given multiple choices so they can best exercise control over their diet, while being served in an environment that is less distracting and also offers adaptive plates or utensils.

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Memory Care vs. Assisted Living: Specialized Environment

Memory care communities also offer an environment that is specially suited to the needs and safety concerns of those with memory and judgment issues. Assisted living communities do not offer these extra measures, which can result in an otherwise unsafe environment for someone with dementia. Dementia changes all five senses, not just memory and cognition. Memory care communities feature safety precautions such as door alarms, as well as environmental considerations such as motion-sensored lights or one-touch sinks. These extra touches not only allow residents to have a safer living experience, but also one that best allows for independence.

Memory Care vs. Assisted Living: Making a Decision

People with early dementia who live well independently or only need a bit of daily help may thrive in an assisted living community, while a dementia care community may be too restrictive. If your loved one struggles with daily functioning, needs support most of the time, or seems afraid and lonely living at home, it’s time to give them the gift of dementia care. No matter which option you choose, select a community with extensive experience supporting seniors. Ask many questions and ensure your loved one feels comfortable when you visit the community. For more information on senior living, check out our free guide: “The Journey to Senior Living: A Step-by-Step Guide for Families.”

For a more detailed explanation of what assisted living is, read our What is Assisted Living guide.

If you think you or your loved one is ready for memory care, search our memory care facilities near me tool to find your nearest location!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between memory care and dementia care?

Memory care and dementia care are terms that are used interchangeably to describe a specialized senior living community that serves adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.

Why is it called memory care?

Memory care communities only serve adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. These communities have specially trained staff members who learn about dementia care best practices, and housing options are designed to include elements that combat the challenges that come with cognitive decline.

How does memory care differ from a nursing home?

Memory care communities typically operate under a specialized assisted living license. However, some memory care communities are part of skilled nursing communities, once referred to as “nursing homes.” In both cases, a memory care community only serves adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

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