Assisted Living vs Memory Care

Elderly white male in white tshirt, white hair, and glasses sitting in a room while a white female cares for him.

When living at home is no longer an option it can be difficult to navigate alternatives for senior care. Let’s explore the differences between assisted living vs. memory care. 

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted living facilities (ALF) provide longer term care to seniors who are still pretty active, usually only needing physical help from one person or less. 

Many look very different from one another. Some may be small and more like a home setting. Others are large and more institutional. 

Resident’s have their own “apartment-like” room, that they may share with a roommate. Then there are community areas for activities and meals. 

All three meals are provided in a communal dining room. Typically residents need to be able to feed themselves without assistance. 

Activities likely occur on a daily basis, which may include things such as crafts, bingo, cards, games, music, and church service. 

Outings may also be available to restaurants, grocery stores, and other places in the local community. 

Resident’s also have the opportunity to go out with family and friends. Some assisted living facilities may even allow pets. 

Most ALFs have staff, such as med techs, to assist with medications. There are usually limitations to how many times a day certain medications are able to be dispensed, such as injections.

People with diabetes may have difficulties being approved for an ALF depending on their ability to check their own blood sugars and how many times per day they need insulin. 

Who Needs Assisted Living?

Seniors who need some supervision, but physically require the help of only one person or less would be appropriate for assisted living.  

When home is no longer a safe option, but independence is still a priority, assisted living can be a great option. 

Assisted living is a step for those who are not debilitated enough for nursing home care, but unsafe at home without 24 hour care. 

Someone may require a stay at a skilled nursing facility after an acute hospitalization. After rehabilitation, some may not be able to get back to their prior level of function. 

Assisted living can be a great option in these cases, so independence can still be maintained while being safe and cared for. 

What is Memory Care?

Memory care may be its own stand alone facility, however in many cases it is a special part of an ALF or long term care facility

Memory care units are typically “locked-down” with extra safety mechanisms, such as key codes, to prevent confused patients from getting out. 

Wandering can be better accommodated due to higher safety measures being in place to prevent elopements.  

Meals, medication management, activities, and assistance with daily care needs are all provided. 

In memory care staffing ratios are commonly higher and they are specifically trained to handle dementia and other cognitive impairments. 

Areas are usually designed to be soothing and calming. There are specific activities for those with cognitive deficits

Routines can be better established in this type of smaller environment. Having a more stable routine can help prevent agitation and behaviors in those with dementia.

What is it like living in memory care?

Living in memory care is similar to living in a long term care facility, however the environment is specifically geared towards best practices for the cognitively impaired.

Staff provide assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), meals, and medications. Routines and surroundings are accommodating to common characteristics and behaviors of dementia. 

What is the difference between memory care and dementia care?

Memory care is a type of dementia care that occurs in a special facility or unit of a facility, designed for those who are cognitively impaired.

Dementia care is a broader term referring to requirements needed to look after people with dementia. 

Who Needs Memory Care

When someone is cognitively impaired and caregivers are no longer able to safely care for them, they are appropriate for memory care. 

People with a cognitive deficit, who wander and are exit seeking can benefit from the secure environment that memory care provides. 

With a special environment, catered to their needs, behaviors and agitation can be minimized. 

Assisted Living vs Memory Care

Assisted living facilities provide many of the same services that memory care does, such as meals, ADLs, medications, activities, etc.  

However, memory care has an added layer of support specifically to the needs of the cognitively impaired. 

Staffing ratios are likely higher in memory care units and additional security measures are in place to prevent elopement. 

Atmosphere and activities are geared towards reducing agitation and behaviors in the cognitively impaired. 

Memory care units can typically meet higher care needs than a standard ALF. This can make aging in place easier, reducing the need to transfer elsewhere when declines occur. 

What makes memory care different?

Memory care is different because it offers an environment specifically to meet the needs of those with cognitive impairments, especially dementia. 

Memory care units are “locked down” with additional safety measures to prevent confused residents from getting out. 

They promote a calming environment with routines to improve quality of life for residents. 

Staffing ratios are usually higher allowing for a higher level of care if needed, for aging in place. 

List of assisted living vs memory care.

How to Choose

Being a caregiver is one of the toughest jobs. Choosing long term care for a loved one is a very difficult decision. 

It is important to understand all the different options and what would best meet your loved one’s needs so they can thrive. 

When choosing between assisted living or memory care, if cognitive impairment is involved and is advancing then memory care is likely the best option for aging in place.

As dementia progresses more care is typically needed. Memory care units are better capable of handling these needs. 

Whereas with assisted living only so much care can be provided before a long term care facility may be needed. 

Touring facilities is important since many look and feel so different. Popping in during off hours can help get a real impression of the facility. 

Cost also needs to be considered. This will likely vary from facility to facility. Some may accept Medicaid or long term care insurance policies.  Learn more about cost at

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Practical Takeaways

There are many similarities between assisted living and memory care. Memory care can provide everything that assisted living can, but also more. 

Memory care creates an environment specifically for people with cognitive impairments. This can make aging in place an easier option. 

When choosing care settings for your loved ones it is important to tour places and check reviews in order to pick the best place for your loved one. 

2 thoughts on “Assisted Living vs Memory Care”

  1. I appreciate how you mentioned that assisted living would be acceptable for older citizens who need some monitoring but only physically need the assistance of one person or less. When my sister and I spoke last night on the phone, she mentioned how our mother’s illness had become worse and made it difficult for her to live alone. For her to receive the daily assistance she needs, we’ll have to look into locating an assisted living facility for her to move into.

  2. Good, I appreciate the idea that our daily food intake would still be taken care of if we opt for memory care. My cousin is so worried about her apartment neighbor who has Alzheimer’s and lives on his own. Perhaps she could bring him to a suitable facility sometime soon.

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