Finding the right living arrangements is one of the challenges of caring for senior loved ones. A search for residential senior living typically turns up several options, each of which has its own admission requirements and standards of care. If you don’t have experience navigating the various types of senior care options, you may not know which option is right for a senior you care for.

This is an important choice to get right. Not all levels of residential care are appropriate for every senior. Some older adults have special needs that only certain types of care facilities are set up to help with, while other seniors can thrive in less closely supervised communities.

Assisted living and memory care are two of the most common types of senior residential communities. There’s a lot of overlap between these two care options, as well as many important differences. If you’re looking into assisted living and memory care options for yourself or a loved one, this guide explains the similarities and differences between these two types of care. It goes over the services offered at each type of facility, the typical cost for both nationwide and what factors make either a good choice for your senior loved ones.

Assisted LivingMemory Care
Care ProvidedCaregiver assistance with ADLs and medication management, coordination with medical providersAssistance with ADLs, daily therapy for mental and emotional well-being, medication management and administration, coordination of care with doctors and family members
Cost$4,300 average in the U.S.$5,160 to $5,590 average U.S.
Who Should Consider ItIndependent seniors who need daily assistance with ADLsSeniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that impair memory

Assisted Living

Assisted living is a semi-independent level of senior care, which in many ways resembles seniors having an apartment of their own. In an assisted living facility, residents can generally come and go as they like, receive visitors and spend time doing things they enjoy. Staff at assisted living facilities perform upkeep on the grounds, assist residents with travel, medication needs and ADLs. Typical ADLs include personal care, grooming, meal preparation and light housekeeping. Assisted living staff frequently help residents organize transportation to and from medical appointments, arrange group outings and plan community events, such as movie nights, dances and visits from speakers or volunteers in the local area.

Seniors can expect safe, comfortable lodging in an assisted living facility. Meals are included in the monthly cost, as are check-in and emergency response services. Many assisted living facilities maintain outdoor gardens and walking paths, indoor media centers and libraries, and amenities such as a general store or game room. Resort-style assisted living communities may have concierge services and restaurant-style dining options. Facilities that offer case management or financial counseling can also help residents manage their financial affairs or plan their estate. It’s common for assisted living communities to offer enrichment classes, arts and crafts and support groups for bereavement and other common issues among seniors.

In the United States, assisted living costs an average of $4,300 per month, according to Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey. However, average monthly prices vary greatly from state to state, ranging from a high of $6,650 in New Hampshire to a low of $3,000 in Missouri. Other factors that affect cost are a facility’s specific location, amenities and services provided. Medicare and most health insurance plans don’t pay for assisted living care. Medicaid doesn’t directly pay the costs associated with assisted living, although many states offer Medicaid waivers for seniors who would otherwise require care in a nursing home.

Assisted living is a good choice for seniors who can no longer live independently in their own home, but who don’t require 24-hour supervision or nursing care. Seniors who need some extra help with ADLs are typically good candidates for assisted living. Individuals with chronic illnesses that require close monitoring may not get the care they need at assisted living facilities, although many facilities do offer hospice services for residents with late-stage illnesses who don’t want to move from a familiar community where they’re comfortable.

Memory Care

In some ways, memory care is similar to assisted living. Residents in memory care facilities get room, board and care, and they get the help they need with ADLs from trained, professional caregivers. Many memory care facilities are located within larger assisted living communities, which helps create a continuity of care for residents whose cognitive health needs exceed what a standard assisted living facility can provide.

Memory care differs from assisted living in the intensity of the care it provides for residents. Staff at memory care facilities generally have specific training in the needs of seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other forms of dementia. Residents are supervised during all waking hours, and help is available at all times for residents who need it. Memory care units almost always coordinate care with residents’ doctors, provide medication management services and conduct daily therapy sessions geared toward the needs of seniors with dementia. While resort-style amenities are less common in memory care communities than in assisted living facilities, staff take a more active role in helping residents manage their daily schedules and ADLs.

Memory care in the United States typically costs 20-30% more than standard assisted living, which puts the average cost nationwide at $5,160 to $5,590 per month. Prices are subject to the same variations due to location and amenities/services as assisted living. Seniors who display disturbed behavior, wandering or self-harm usually require closer supervision in a more secure setting, which may cost more.

Memory care can be a good choice for seniors with dementia who can benefit from 24/7 supervision, a secure environment, cognitive-enriching therapies and assistance with ADLs. Not all people with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory loss conditions need the close supervision of a memory care facility, but this level of care is appropriate for seniors whose needs can’t be met in a standard assisted living community.