About seven in 10 adults over 65 will require long-term care at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all residents of long-term care facilities live with cognitive impairment. 

The large population of seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia in long-term care communities may in part be due to the challenge of managing the condition. When a senior starts experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia, many families realize that it’s in their loved one’s best interest to seek out memory care. Due to the symptoms that accompany memory loss, continuing to live at home without professional help can become unhealthy and unsafe for some seniors. 

Memory care communities provide a safe alternative for seniors living with memory impairment. These facilities are staffed by professionals who are specifically trained to provide care to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and are designed to accommodate older adults with progressive cognitive disorders. This guide will provide more detail about memory care to help caregivers and family members better understand what memory care is and how to choose the community. 

What Is Memory Care?

What Is Memory Care?

A memory care community is a residential care facility or unit of a residential care facility that is designed specifically to meet the needs of people who have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Memory care communities strive to provide residents with a high quality of life while taking additional measures to ensure their safety. There may be security measures in place to ensure that residents do not wander, for example, and some units are locked so that no one may leave or enter.

Memory care facilities may also give you the option of specialized care to help your aging loved one manage their medications and healthcare. These facilities care not just for individuals’ medical needs, however. They also frequently offer opportunities to socialize or engage in hobbies in ways that work best for people with impaired memories. Some communities may offer pleasurable activities, such as visits from therapy pets, musical entertainment, or the opportunity to spend time in the gardens, that are known to be particularly beneficial for people living with cognitive changes.

What Are the Benefits of Memory Care?

Memory care offers seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s numerous benefits, including cognitive stimulation, emergency monitoring, and support from specially-trained staff. This can lead to other benefits like a higher quality of life, less use of antipsychotic medications, and improved medical care for other health issues. Some of the most prominent benefits of memory care are explained in more detail below. 

  • Care Coordination: Your loved one’s team will work together, including your aging parent as appropriate, to ensure comprehensive care.
  • Staff Knowledge and Competency: The staff can demonstrate training and the necessary skill set to prepare them to work with people who have cognitive impairments.
  • Activity Programming Based on Abilities: Activities are available that suit your aging loved one’s cognitive ability, memory, attention span, language, reasoning ability, and physical function.
  • Behavior Management: The behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are addressed first through non-pharmacological means, such as taking a look at scheduling, environment, and other possible triggers for the behavior.
  • Safe and Supportive Physical Environment: The physical environment is managed by the staff to reduce stress and overstimulation, and to keep all residents safe.

How Does Memory Care Compare to Other Senior Care Options?

Memory Care vs. Assisted Living

Assisted living is a long-term living option designed for seniors who need some help with activities of daily living (ADLs). Residents of assisted living communities live as independently as they’re able, but with the knowledge that helping hands are never too far away. 

Assisted living communities have trained employees on-site around-the-clock to help residents with their ADLs. However, these employees are typically not trained to care for seniors with memory loss, and ALFs do not offer the specialized medical care and safety measures in place at memory care facilities. Additionally, because people with dementia and other memory problems typically require more extensive, specialized care than other older adults, memory care facilities tend to be pricier than assisted living facilities. 

Memory Care vs. Nursing Home Care

Nursing homes offer a more intensive level of medical care than any other type of senior living. People living in nursing homes are typically less able to live independently or care for themselves than people who can live in an assisted living facility, and the available services reflect this. But the high-level of care offered at nursing homes is typically more focused on medical care rather than memory care. Those living with memory impairment may not be able to receive the personalized attention and cognitive stimulation that they need in a nursing home setting. 

As with assisted living facilities, some but not all nursing homes may have a special memory care unit or have trained memory care staff. No matter which type of senior care facility you’re looking into, it’s important to ask about staff members’ level of memory care knowledge and training if you have an aging parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Top Cities for Memory Care

What Services and Amenities Are Provided in Memory Care Facilities?

memory care services and ammenities

Memory Care Services

The services and amenities offered in memory care communities are intended to make life safer and more comfortable for those living with memory impairment. All memory care communities provide some basic daily assistance for residents, including:

  • Assistance with the activities of daily living, including bathing, dressing, and toileting
  • Meal preparation and serving
  • Housekeeping and laundry service
  • Interior and exterior maintenance tasks 
  • Access to round-the-clock nurses
  • Transportation to doctor’s appointments and other outings

Memory care facilities may also offer activities such as music, arts and crafts, and dancing, led by staff or volunteers who are trained to work with people who have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Research increasingly suggests that such activities are beneficial for people with cognitive impairments. Many memory care communities also offer cognitive therapies and programs meant to keep the brain active and engaged. 

Overall, the activities at a memory care community may be similar to what you would find in other residential facilities, but with some slight adjustments to keep people with cognitive impairment engaged and content. 

Memory Care Amenities

Memory care communities are designed to keep residents safe and help them thrive. The communities typically have amenities and design features that one wouldn’t find in other types of senior living residences. Specially designed features of memory care communities include: 

  • Safety precautions to prevent wandering such as doors with alarms
  • Keypad locks at all doors or other controlled entry and exit points 
  • Security cameras monitoring entry and exit points
  • Use of personal security devices such as medical alert systems 

In addition to these safety features, many communities also offer amenities for residents’ enjoyment. These amenities may include:

  • Fitness center with guided group classes
  • A secured outdoor or open-air courtyard
  • Indoor or outdoor swimming pool(s)
  • Fine dining rooms
  • Resident lounges
  • Game rooms 

How Do I Pay for Memory Care?

In order to provide a safe environment for those living with memory impairment, memory care communities must have enhanced safety and security measures as well as a specially-trained staff. Because of these special needs, memory care tends to be expensive, even when compared to other residential senior care.

Generally, it’s estimated that dementia care costs an extra 20-30% compared to assisted living. Considering the average cost of assisted living in the United States is $4,051 per month, one can expect to pay approximately $5,000 per month for memory care. Costs may be much higher or lower depending on your location and the specific facility’s offerings, so be sure to always ask communities for their pricing directly. 

While paying out-of-pocket is always an option, the high cost of memory care leads many families to seek some form of financial assistance. Some of the most commonly used forms of financial assistance for memory care are: 

  • Medicare: Residential memory care is not covered by Medicare. However, it does cover some services those with dementia or Alzheimer’s may need, such as 35 hours of in-home care per week and stays in nursing homes, though there are limitations to these benefits. Some seniors may also consider a Medicare Supplement Insurance, or Medigap, plan. These plans “supplement” original Medicare to expand the benefits, and some Medigap plans may cover memory care services. 
  • Medicaid: Medicaid does not directly cover memory care, but many states have waiver programs designed to expand coverage for services such as long-term care. Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waivers, also referred to as 1915(c) Medicaid waivers, offer expanded Medicaid coverage for some assisted living and memory care services to prevent unnecessary moves to skilled nursing homes. The availability of HCBS waivers differs from state-to-state, but many cover personal care services that one would receive in a memory care community, making the overall cost more affordable (Medicaid does not cover room and board in long-term care facilities).  
  • Reverse Mortgages: Reverse mortgages like the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) are loans that adults over the age of 62 can take out against the value of the home that they own. This allows seniors to access some liquid value from their homes without needing to sell it immediately. Borrowers are required to pay back their reverse mortgage loan, with interest, once the homeowner moves out of the home or passes away. 
  • Life Insurance Settlements: Some individuals with life insurance policies may be able to “cash-out” or receive a settlement rather than using the policy for its intended purpose. For some seniors, it makes sense to use one’s life insurance benefit to finance memory care, while for others it’s wiser to maintain the original death benefit. The options one has for accessing their benefit early will depend on the type of policy they have and the insurance company they used. 
  • Aid and Attendance Benefit: The Aid & Attendance (A&A) benefit is a monthly payment intended to help veterans and their spouses pay for long-term care services, including memory care. A&A is a tax-free sum that eligible veterans receive in addition to their monthly VA pension. You can learn more about eligibility and the benefit amount on the VA website. 

How Do I Choose the Right Memory Care Community?

How to choose memory care

Making the decision to seek memory care for a loved one is challenging in itself, and the next step of choosing a memory care community can be incredibly difficult. To help make the process easier, we’ve broken it down into some key points for you to focus on. In the sections below, we offer some advice on determining when it’s time for your loved one to start memory care and things to look for when selecting a community. 

How Do I Know When It’s Time for Memory Care?

Watching a loved one live with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or any other memory impairment is not easy. Out of love and compassion, many families attempt to provide care for their loved one on their own. But, many seniors living with memory impairment do eventually reach a point when they will greatly benefit from professional memory care. 

While making the decision to seek memory care is personal for every family, the situations below may indicate that it’s time to seek professional care for your loved one. 

  • Getting lost or disoriented while driving or walking on a familiar route
  • Losing prescriptions, forgetting to take medication, or taking the improper dose
  • Personality changes like increased aggression or withdrawal from loved ones 
  • Dangerous incidents at home like forgetting to turn off the stove or leaving the door or gate open, making oneself susceptible to crime like burglary 
  • A noticeable decline in grooming, such as an overgrown, unkempt beard or wearing clothes that appear to be unwashed 
  • Lack of cooperation with family caregivers 

What Should I Look for in a Memory Care Community?

Each family will have different priorities when it comes to selecting a memory care community, whether they’re looking for a certain staff-to-resident ratio or a specific music therapy program. Regardless, all families should focus on finding a community that is reliable, trustworthy, and skilled in caring for seniors with memory impairment. Below, we explain the key areas for families to focus on when considering a memory care community. 

  • Care Capabilities: Meet with facility staff to discuss whether the facility can manage your loved one’s condition both now and in the future. If your loved one has other chronic conditions or medical problems in addition to their memory impairment, make sure that the community’s medical team can adequately manage that as well. Personal care plans should be established prior to or upon move-in and regularly updated, so ask management how often care plans are re-assessed. 
  • Staff Attentiveness and Expertise: Make certain staff has specialized dementia training on top of being good care providers. This means caregivers have a deep understanding of memory impairment and how to communicate with individuals who are not always able to express themselves. They should know how to manage combativeness, recognize signs of pain, and be able to create solutions for the challenges often associated with eating, bathing, or toileting in dementia patients. If you want your loved one to have ample personal attention, be sure to ask about the staff-to-resident ratio to ensure it’s one you feel comfortable with. 
  • Safety: Rooms and bathrooms should have emergency call systems, and for extra safety, many communities provide residents with personal medical alert systems. Staff should perform in-room checks on a regular basis. To prevent wandering, all entry and exit points should be secure and outdoor areas should be monitored and/or enclosed. 
  • Activities and Social Engagement: Check not only the number of available activities but also how appropriate they are for your loved one’s cognitive abilities. Usually, dementia programming mimics everyday activities, such as having a dementia-safe kitchen for cooking activities, has time set aside for art projects or reminiscence, and incorporates some basic exercising. Some facilities even have special gardening areas or greenhouses which can be a very rewarding activity.

Ultimately, only you will know if a community is the right fit for your loved one. But if you’d like some assistance from an outside expert, contact a Caring.com Family Advisor. Family Advisors are trained to provide free, personalized, one-on-one guidance to help caregivers and families find the best care solutions for their elderly loved ones. You can contact a Family Advisor by calling (800) 973-1540.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Difference Between Memory Care and Skilled Nursing?

The main difference between memory care and skilled nursing is that memory care communities are specifically intended for those living with memory loss, while nursing homes are not. Rather, nursing homes provide skilled, 24-hour medical care and therapy services. Nursing homes may have a memory care unit, but may not offer the same level of specialized care, cognitive stimulation, and security features that one would find in a dedicated memory care community. 

Memory care is not considered assisted living because it is beyond the scope of assisted living services. Assisted living facilities provide residents with minimal assistance with their personal tasks and activities of daily living, as well as planned social activities, transportation, and housekeeping. Assisted living communities do not offer regular, skilled medical care, including memory care. Assisted living communities will not have the highly-trained staff and specialized design and programming that memory care communities offer. 

The best care for someone with dementia will depend on that individual’s specific needs. The vast majority of people with dementia will benefit from some form of dedicated memory care, whether in the form of an in-home health care aide or moving to a residential memory care community. Those living with dementia typically need help with their daily activities including hygiene and eating and face a high risk of wandering or behavioral changes. Dedicated memory care providers are specially trained to help with these behaviors and mitigate risks. 

Memory care costs an average of approximately $5,000 per month in the United States. The specialized staff training and facilities required to adequately care for those with dementia make memory care more expensive than assisted living, which costs an average of $4,051 per month. These figures are the national average, and costs vary dramatically depending on one’s location. 

Is Memory Care Covered by Medicare?

Residential memory care is not covered by Medicare. However, Medicare may cover some services that people with dementia need, such as up to 100 days of skilled nursing home care and 35 hours of in-home care per week. Other types of Medicare products, such as Medicare Supplement Insurance and Medicare Advantage, may cover some memory care, but this will vary depending on the plan. 

Search for Properties in Your Area