Memory Care: Your Definitive Guide for 2022

Memory Care: Your Definitive Guide for 2022

Find peace of mind with the right care

Memory care is designed for seniors who have Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. It generally refers not just to the type of care, but also the environment in which it is provided. Many assisted living communities have special wings designed to help residents with memory issues, while other memory care communities are stand-alone facilities where the entire building is designed to prevent wandering and minimize residents' confusion or agitation. When a senior needs more supervision, due to memory or cognitive issues, and in-home care is no longer sufficient or safe, then it is time to consider memory care services.

If you are urgently looking for memory care, start here

What does memory care typically look like?

If your loved one is having problems with forgetfulness and concentration, you may be wondering what to expect next. Seniors who have been diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer's disease or Alzheimer's disease will experience a decline in their memory and other brain functions. This is true for seniors with any dementia-related illness. Their decline will be slow, but the stages are predictable.

Seniors living in memory care benefit from a structured environment that provides plenty of routines to help them feel secure and comfortable. The typical caregiver-to-resident staffing ratio is 1:6, which is much higher than in assisted living. Assisted living typically has 1 staff member for every 15 residents.

Memory care facilities are often designed to minimize wandering. For example, many memory care facilities are centered around a circular hallway that's easy to navigate and that allows residents to stroll without ever losing their way.

Senior memory care units provide a little extra security because of the tendency of those with Alzheimer's and dementia to wander. This often includes a landscaped yet secure outdoor spaces so residents can enjoy the sunshine and spend time outdoors while remaining safe.

 Photo: The Abbey at Westminster Plaza, Houston, TX.

Safety is paramount in other ways in memory care facilities. Toxic items, such as laundry detergent or shampoo, are kept locked up to prevent accidents. In some cases, residents wear bracelets keyed to sound an alarm if they open a door to leave the facility. As another safety precaution, memory care rooms and suites don't include kitchens.

A memory care facility is built to create a relaxing environment. This is because residents are prone to stress and confusion. Facilities often feature lots of natural light and bright colors, and there are places for residents to gather among familiar faces. Some facilities feature sensory care and other innovative approaches to help residents stay as communicative as possible.

Photo: The Windsor at Ortega, Jacksonville, FL

To encourage residents with Alzheimer's to eat, dining rooms often feature fish tanks, since studies show that watching fish swim stimulates the appetite. In addition, meals are designed to be appetizing to the eye as well as to the palate. Extra care is taken to offer dishes that each senior resident will enjoy.

Photo: Legacy House of Avondale, Phoenix, AZ

The Reisberg Scale can help you understand where your loved one may be in the dementia process so you can determine what type of care they may need.

The Reisberg Scale

  • No decline: No memory loss, no dementia
  • Very mild: Normal forgetfulness linked to aging
  • Mild: Increased forgetfulness, diminished work performance, difficulty finding words. Duration: 7 years.
  • Moderate: Difficulty concentrating, difficulty managing finances, difficulty with complex tasks, difficulty in social situations. Denial about symptoms. Duration: 2 years
  • Moderately severe: Significant memory deficiencies, including memory loss about current details like address or date. Duration: 2 years
  • Severe: Assistance needed for daily tasks. Memory loss of recent events, difficulty counting. Incontinence. Personality changes. Repetition of simple behaviors. Agitation. Duration: 2.5 years.
  • Very severe: Loss of ability to speak. Assistance needed for all daily tasks, including eating. Duration: 2.5 years

Seniors who need memory care often require more attention in their care program than is typically available in an assisted living facility. They may also require extra measures to keep them physically safe.

The well-trained staff in a memory care facility focus on slowing the progression of Alzheimer's or other dementia related illnesses. They do this through games and exercises designed to stimulate the brain. The staff is also available around the clock for Alzheimer’s care and dementia residents, something that home caregivers often can't manage.

Memory care is sometimes provided in a dedicated wing or section of an assisted living facility. This makes it easy for residents to transition to the memory care community if needed.

If you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and need help with your next steps, start here

What is the future of memory care?

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the senior population will reach 83.7 million in the year 2050, almost double in size from 2012 where there was a population of 43.1 million. This upswing of the senior population will change the future of senior living.

With the large numbers of seniors in the population, the future of memory care will most definitely take a new turn towards technology to keep up with the masses and the times. Whether you or your loved one chose a stand-alone memory care community or an assisted living community,technology will be changing the way you live.

Future trends in memory care

Senior living has the opportunity to define itself, as well as assisted living and memory care, with new approaches that will continue to build upon assisted living and standalone facilities in terms of how they operate. Community will also play a big part in the memory care community, with more focus on care and safety.

The age structure changes in the growing population will change different aspects of memory care altogether. Communities may adopt new programs due to advanced artificial intelligence, which will be responsible for helping seniors get more out of their healthcare. Some examples of this may be voice assistants such as Amazon Echo (aka Alexa) that will help seniors remember when to take their medicine or when to see the doctor. Also, Telehealth services that allow seniors to remotely access their physicians as well as family members.

Memory care amenities may also be available in the near future. Currently, a few memory care communities are setting up villages for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. These villages create replica streets and buildings of years past, catering to those with memory issues. The hope is that these villages will bring happy nostalgic memories to the seniors.

In recent years, virtual reality (VR) experiences have started to find their way into memory care communities. Researchers in France found that VR-based training can help seniors with dementia feel less anxious and fatigued. Since VR has been a success so far, the future of memory care may include more of these experiences with dementia and Alzheimers patients.

Are Alzheimer’s and dementia the same?

According to the Alzheimer's Association, “Dementia is a general term for memory loss  and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.” 

While Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, they are two different components of memory loss. Alzheimer’s is a disease and dementia describes symptoms of memory loss. Neither dementia or Alzheimer’s is considered a natural part of aging.  

Courtyard Terrace Sacramento, CA

Photo: Courtyard Terrace Memory Care, Sacramento, CA

What services are provided in memory care facilities?

Memory care facilities are often specially designed to help those with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia feel comfortable and at home. The level of services provided often overlap with what is offered in an assisted living community.

Seniors that live in memory care can typically count on the following types of services:

  • All meals, either in their rooms or in a shared dining hall
  • Housekeeping services to keep their living space clean and safe
  • Social activities designed to stimulate their minds and keep them connected
  • Transportation to doctor's offices and other appointments
  • Comfortable rooms, which may be private or shared
  • All laundry services, including fresh linens
  • Exercise programs and physical therapy when needed
  • Cognitive therapy

In addition, memory care residents receive whatever help they need with activities of daily living (ADL), including:

  • Personal Hygiene
  • Feeding
  • Continence Management
  • Ambulating
  • Dressing
  • Toileting

Memory care facilities provide 24/7 supervised care for their senior residents. This means they are not the same as an adult day care center, or a memory care cafe.

To prevent senior residents from wandering away, exits at these facilities are locked and alarmed. This provides confidence so that everyone knows if one of the residents wanders and tries to leave. In addition, the staff at a memory care facility are specially trained to handle the unique needs of Alzheimer's disease and dementia residents.

What are the benefits of memory care facilities?

Memory care offers many benefits to support your loved one with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or any other related dementias. Memory care facilities provide a safe and secure environment for your loved one while still allowing them to live a high quality of life. 

10 benefits of memory care

  • A secure environment. One of the main concerns you may have for your loved one is their safety. Memory loss could also lead to confusion and wandering. The memory care facilities are thoughtfully designed with unique layouts to keep your loved one in a safe space in case of wandering.
  • Independence. It is important that no matter the age a person is allowed to keep their independence and individuality. The memory care communities allow your loved one to be a part of activities and maintain their favorite hobbies.
  • Experienced staff. The staff in the memory care areas are trained and have a good skill set in dementia care so they understand each individual's needs.
  • At home feeling. Any change can be frightening for seniors. The transition from their own home to a new community can be a lot to take in. Memory care facilities have several layouts for your loved one to choose from to decorate and personalize their new living space and make it their new home.
  • Specialized Services. These services can offer your loved one support with issues related to their memory care. Most facilities offer therapies such as physical, occupational and speech. They can also help with cognitive ability, memory, attention span, language, and other skills and functions.
  • Socialization. Moving to memory care will allow your loved one to socialize with others around them. Having others to share with will combat loneliness and allow interaction amongst a variety of people every day.
  • Individualized Care. Since the staff to resident ratio tends to be lower than assisted living your loved one will flourish in the care they are given.
  • Care coordination. The staff at the memory care facility will work together with your loved ones’ doctors and other staff that are helping with their memory care.
  • Daily housekeeping. Most facilities will offer this service. This helps your loved one live in a neat and clean environment.
  • Meal Preparation and Services. Memory care provides meals for both health and taste buds.

What is the cost of memory care?

On average, memory care costs can run anywhere between $4,000 and $9,000 a month, according to a 2020 survey by Genworth, an insurance company that tracks the costs of long-term care. Costs vary state to state and are affected by the level of care provided.Memory Care is typically covered by private pay. Long term care insurance will supplement private pay.

In some cases, you will find qualified memory care in a skilled nursing facility (SNF). This will afford the senior resident some government assistance, such as Medicare. Medicaid can cover a SNF if you’re considered low income.

Each state has their own licensing regulations. Therefore, the cost varies state by state for the memory care services provided and the government assistance available.

It’s important to note that a SNF is not a nursing home, even though they share a similar name. The name “nursing home” is not often used any longer, though you may hear it along with “convalescent home” in reference to SNFs.

PRO TIP: Veteran’s Benefits are often available for assistance with care needs.

How to pay for memory care

Many families struggle with the costs of healthcare and the financial aspect of memory care. Finding a way to pay for memory care services can be challenging. There are four main options to consider when trying to cover the costs of memory care:

  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Out of pocket

Medicare covers some, but not all, costs of care in a memory care facility. It doesn’t cover any type of long-term care, but it does cover the following: inpatient hospital care, semi-private rooms, meals, general nursing care, medications, hospital supplies, diagnostic testing, 100 days of skilled nursing home care and hospice care.

The majority of people who enroll in Medicaid are unable to afford other forms of health insurance. Medicaid by law can not pay for room and board, but will cover the cost of care for residents. In most memory care facilities, the Medicaid waiver can be used for the cost of room and board.

Long-term care insurance can cover different types of long-term care. Long-term care insurance can cover: in-home care, assisted living, respite care, hospice care, nursing home/skilled nursing, Alzheimer’s or dementia care.

Out of pocket pay is also referred to as private pay. This is when the cost of memory care is paid out of pocket by the individual or their family.

Medical care and staffing in memory care

Most memory care facilities are staffed with registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, and certified nurse assistants. The objective is to have enough qualified staff to care for residents' needs and maintain resident safety. It's optimal if staff members have been at the facility for a long time and work consistent shifts. Residents with Alzheimer's disease or dementia respond best to familiar faces.

Typically, medical and non-medical staff in a memory care facility receive specialized training. Best practices in Alzheimer's and dementia care include training in the progressive symptoms of dementia. Also, staff are trained to understand what seniors are trying to communicate through behavior when verbal communication abilities start to lag.

The memory care written plan

Part of the care for your loved one at a memory care community will include a written plan. The facility's medical director leads the development of this plan. Also involved is the attending physician and other medical staff. Family members also get to contribute to it.

The written plan for your loved one should reflect their personal preferences and long-term interest. It should provide as much freedom of choice as is possible and safe.

Among the issues covered in the written plan for any resident's medical care are typically:

  • A customized approach to expression of unmet needs
  • Minimal use of psychotropic medications
  • Flexible care based on the resident's personal sleeping and waking patterns
  • Provision of care for optimal physical functioning
  • Activities that promote quality of life and enjoyment
  • Meeting of all nutrition and hydration needs
  • Minimizing of any distress

How does memory care differ from assisted living?

Memory care and assisted living both have meals, housing, supervised care and help with daily tasks in common. Assisted living differs from memory care because it does not offer regular, skilled medical care like memory care does. Assisted living also does not offer any kind of memory care assistance. Memory care has a more specialized living design for the residents as well as trained staff for memory care needs. Many assisted living communities incorporate memory care units into their property.

Both assisted living and memory care offer solutions for seniors who are no longer able to fully care for themselves. Both provide meals in a secure setting, and assistance with the ADLs, such as grooming, bathing, and medication management. However, memory care units are designed for those with memory problems such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia.


How does memory care differ from a skilled nursing facility?

While both communities work with memory care there is a difference between memory care and a skilled nursing facility. Memory care is specifically intended for those with memory loss, while skilled nursing facilities are not. Skilled nursing facilities do not offer the same level of specialized care that you would find in a memory care facility. Skilled nursing facilities provide medical care for long term or short term medical needs for those who can not take care of themselves in their own home.

How does memory care differ from in-home care?

In-home care allows patients to receive treatment at home in a familiar place instead of a facility or hospital. Home care allows the person to continue to age in their own home as well as allow respite for their primary care providers.

While both memory care and in-home care offer individualized treatment, memory care is different from in-home care because it offers a higher quality of life through continuous socialization and specialized treatment for your loved one. Memory care facilities have clinical and medical staff that are fully trained in therapy, medications, and treatments.

5 signs it is time to consider memory care

  1. If your loved one gets confused or agitated easily this could cause safety issues for your loved one and those around them. Watch the frequency of these symptoms as these signs may mean it is time to move your loved one into memory care. The memory care communities are trained and familiar with these symptoms and will be able to help your loved one work through their feelings.
  2. You are burnt out from taking care of your loved one. Burnout is real and asking for help has no shame. When taking care of your loved one becomes too much you should consider speaking to an agent about memory care communities.
  3. Your loved one is no longer taking care of their hygiene. If you notice your loved one is not taking care of themselves or their personal appearance this could be a sign of dementia. When they move into memory care the staff will be able to remind them that their hygiene needs to be addressed daily.
  4. Your loved one no longer remembers to feed themselves or how to use appliances properly. This is not only dangerous, but a great health risk. Moving your loved one into memory care will make sure that they are given the meals they need each day without having to cook for themselves.
  5. You notice that your loved one is starting to wander. This could potentially be a very dangerous situation if not attended to. Memory care facilities are safe and enclosed so your loved one can no longer wander off.

Choosing a memory care facility

When you're looking for a memory care facility for your loved one, you probably have a lot of questions. The cost of memory care is one of the most asked questions but it is not the only consideration as you're looking for just the right place for your loved one.

You should feel very free to ask any question that comes to mind as you try to find the best care. There are a lot of considerations in choosing a facility and neither you or the facility should ever shy away from asking and answering questions. Before choosing a facility you will want to compile a list of questions that covers your concerns about your loved ones’ care.

30 questions to ask prospective memory care facilities

You can also download and print this list of questions.

  1. What services and level of care does your memory care community offer? Are all of these services included in the basic monthly rate, or are some of them extra?
  2. What personal assistance do residents receive? How often do they receive it?
  3. How many meals are provided each day? What do you do if a resident doesn't want to eat? What personalization is available in meal plans? Can you accommodate special diets (gluten-free, kosher, etc.)?
  4. What special care do you provide for residents who wander? For residents who become physically aggressive? For residents who have mobility issues?
  5. Is it possible to take a resident out of the facility for a day trip or a weekend? What are your visitation rules?
  6. What happens if a resident requires a more intensive level of care than you provide?
  7. Are rooms private? Shared? How do prices vary for each?
  8. What housekeeping, maintenance, and laundry/linen services do you provide? How often do you provide them?
  9. Do you offer exercise programs or equipment? What about physical therapy?
  10. What is the staff-to-resident ratio during the day? Does that change at night?
  11. Is there a nurse on staff 24 hours a day? If not, what are their hours?
  12. Is there a visiting physician? If so, how easy is it to seek medical help?
  13. What medical services are available?
  14. Are entrances and exits secure and enclosed?
  15. Do the hallways have sufficient lighting and handrails?
  16. Are the hallways color coded for easy navigation for residents?
  17. Are there emergency alert systems in place if my loved one should fall or needs help in their room?
  18. What programs and activities do you offer?
  19. What kind of training does your staff participate in?
  20. How are difficult patients handled?
  21. Does each resident have an individual care plan?
  22. Who’s involved in developing a resident’s care plan?
  23. How often is the memory care plan updated?
  24. How does the staff get to know my loved one and their personality?
  25. What is the monthly rate for housing and care?
  26. What is your policy on handling medical emergencies?
  27. Are residents grouped by cognitive impairment levels?
  28. What type of dementia techniques does the staff use?
  29. Is the resident assigned to the same staff members daily?
  30. What is the discharge policy?

Memory Care FAQs

What's the difference between memory care, assisted living, and a nursing home?

Is memory care considered skilled nursing?

What are the outdoor areas like?

What are the memory care community's discharge policies?

How do I find a memory care facility?

What is the food like in memory care?

Are visitors and pets allowed in memory care communities?

Do memory care communities provide transportation?

How easy is it for memory care residents to get around the community?

What medical staff are on duty 24/7 in memory care?

How do the staff handle memory care residents who become aggressive?

How regularly does the memory care community communicate with families?

How does the community handle communication in case of emergencies?

What are the fees at the memory care community, and how are they structured?

Are additional fees charged for certain medical services?

What other additional charges can you expect?

How should you prepare for a visit to a memory care community?

How do you schedule a memory care tour?

What should you expect to see on your memory care tour?

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