Find peace of mind with the right care
By Marlena del Hierro, last updated August 8, 2022
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
In addition, memory care residents receive whatever help they need with activities of daily living (ADL), including:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can also download and print this list of questions.
Assisted living communities are an ideal choice for seniors who are still active and fairly self-sufficient, but who need a little help with daily personal tasks, housekeeping, and medication management. Memory care is similar to assisted living, but it provides 24/7 care from staff members specially trained to handle the special needs of those with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Nursing homes, also known as skilled nursing communities, care for seniors who have significant medical needs and need round-the-clock care.
No, memory care is not considered skilled nursing. Memory care is similar to assisted living, but it provides 24/7 care from staff members specially trained to handle the special needs of those with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Nursing homes, also known as skilled nursing communities, care for seniors who have significant medical needs and need round-the-clock care. Assisted living communities are an ideal choice for seniors who are still active and fairly self-sufficient, but who need a little help with daily personal tasks, housekeeping, and medication management.
Access to the outdoors and to sunlight can help residents with Alzheimer's and dementia maintain normal circadian rhythms. A beautiful view or a pretty garden is soothing, and features like bird feeders or fountains provide positive stimulation for the brain.
Check out the outside areas to see if there are pleasant and safe walkways and restful spots to sit and enjoy being outside — and don't forget to check out the view from your loved one's window. In addition, find out if the residents have unlimited access to the outdoor areas and what any restrictions are.
Sometimes a memory care community seeks to discharge a resident because they can no longer provide the specialized care the individual requires. This is a legal discharge. A community can also discharge a resident if their remaining in the community poses a risk to their own health and safety or that of the other residents. Find out what type of medical care the memory care community of your choice can't provide, and how they handle the transition to a skilled nursing community if needed.
However, in most cases, a memory care community isn't allowed to discharge a resident for switching the manner of payment. For example, if you find your loved one needs to switch to Medicaid to continue payment, the community can't discharge them (as long as they accept Medicaid). While no one likes to think about worst-case scenarios, make sure you understand the circumstances under which your loved one might no longer be able to stay in the memory care community of your choice, and seek out the recourse you have available.
To find the best memory care facility, begin by searching our listings. Then select the communities you want to tour. Next, connect with a Seniorly Local Advisor who can arrange tours at all the properties. Prepare all your questions ahead of time so you don't forget to get all the information you need when visiting a memory care community. Take a good look around as you visit to see how much the community matches the impression you've gotten from the website or various brochures. Keep your eyes open for any hygiene or safety issues.
Most memory care communities provide three meals a day for their residents, but you may want to probe a bit to find out the details. Are there options if your loved one doesn't like the food being served? Will the kitchen take your loved one's preferences into consideration when planning the menu? This can be vital, since some people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia go through stages where they refuse to eat.
Ask whether it's possible for residents to get something to eat outside of regular dining hours, and whether they can enjoy meals in the privacy of their rooms. If you visit the communities you're considering, try to show up at mealtime, and ask for a sample of the day's menu to see how delicious and nutritious the food is.
Memory care communities always welcome family and friends as visitors. Check to see if there are visiting hours, if you need to call ahead, or if you're welcome to just drop in, though you will most likely need to sign in.
Some memory care communities have community pets, since interacting with cats and dogs provides positive stimulation for those with dementia. It's unlikely that your memory care community will allow your loved one to bring their own pet; if they do, expect to pay an additional charge for pet care. You might also want to check to see if your loved one's dog can come visit when you do.
Memory care residents often have far less need for transportation away from the community than assisted living residents do. Many communities will provide transportation to medical appointments, but ask to make sure if it's available and if there's an extra charge.
Some residents in memory care communities need walkers, wheelchairs, or other mobility aids to stay mobile. All areas of the community should be fully wheelchair accessible, of course.
But in addition, take a look at the design of the community. Is it easy for someone whose memory and cognition are impaired to find their way around? Are rooms marked clearly, so they can always find their way back to their own private space? Is there a safe space in which they can walk around without getting lost? For example, many memory care communities offer circular walks indoors or outside that always lead the stroller back to where they started.
Larger memory care communities are likely to have a nurse on staff around the clock. If this level of staffing isn't available in the communities you're considering, what are the hours of the on-duty nurses? What medical staff are on-call when no one is on duty? What staff are on duty through the night, when many Alzheimer's and dementia residents are active?
Aggression is a symptom that occurs in almost half of all people with Alzheimer's. Memory care staff should be specially trained to deal with these episodes by calming the residents with regular routines, gentle responses, and music therapy.
The treatment of dementia-related aggression is controversial. Talk to your loved one's physician about the options, and make sure that any memory care community you're considering is willing to abide by your wishes.
Some memory care communities check in with families every week or month, while others wait for family members to call and ask for updates. You may have a strong preference. Ask the memory care community who your contact person will be and how communication is usually handled, and make sure you're comfortable with the answer.
In addition, you should be informed of and participate in any changes to your loved one's individualized care plan. Ask how often this plan is discussed and how you can participate.
Each memory care community has its own policies for notifying families in the event of medical emergencies. They may let you know if your loved one is showing signs of aggression — or they may wait until psychiatric care is called in. Some communities will let you know if your loved one is put on oxygen or IVs for medical reasons. Go over the policies to make sure you understand them and are comfortable with them. If you want to be notified in case of specific medical actions, ask if that's something you can arrange.
Some memory care communities charge one flat fee that covers all services. Other communities separate the fees for medical care and housing. The differences may matter to your loved one's health insurance or long-term care policy. In addition, there may be tax consequences. Seek professional advice from a health care advocate or your tax accountant if these issues might matter.
Also find out how the community handles billing, especially if you will be responsible for all or part of the payments. Do they bill insurance, or will you have to pay upfront and seek reimbursement? Are there one-time fees to pay before your loved one can take up residence in the community? How can you structure payment arrangements if needed?
Medication management and basic monitoring of your loved one's health should be included in the cost at your memory care community. However, some memory care and assisted living communities charge extra for certain medical care, for example, diabetes care. If your loved one has a colostomy bag, or if they're confined to a wheelchair, there may be additional charges.
Don't hesitate to ask about various types of therapy — physical therapy, occupational therapy, and so on — to see what services are included, what might be covered by insurance, and what incur extra charges. Immunizations, care for injuries, and any emergency care are also likely to be add-ons financially.
Many memory care and assisted living communities charge for cable or satellite TV service and for internet access. If meals are available outside the standard mealtimes and three-meal-a-day structure, you can probably expect to pay extra for those meals. Transportation, including visits to the ER, may also incur an additional charge. All these fluctuate from one community to another, so be sure to ask about your specific concerns.
You may also have to pay an upfront fee to reserve your loved one's spot in the community. Check with each memory care community you visit for details, since they can vary widely.
Prepare all your questions ahead of time so you don't forget to get all the information you need when visiting a memory care community. Take a good look around as you visit to see how much the community matches the impression you've gotten from the website or various brochures. Keep your eyes open for any hygiene or safety issues.
If your loved one can handle it, you may want to bring them along on the visit to see how they react emotionally to each place. Their ability to make the trip will of course depend on their medical condition and the stage of dementia they're at, so you may have to be their eyes and ears on your own.
Once you've confirmed that a memory care community you're interested in has available accommodations for your loved one, either schedule a visit on the community's website or call to make an appointment.
Try to visit at mealtime, so you can check out the food and see the community in action. You may want to try to schedule a second visit late at night, if possible, to be aware of the care provided overnight.
When you visit a memory care community, you should first meet either the head of the community, the head of marketing, or the head of medical care. They'll start by explaining what the community offers in terms of medical care, amenities, activities and communities. They'll also go over costs with you, so have all your questions regarding finances ready.
Next, you'll be given a tour of the entire community. Depending on the size of the community, this could take as little as 30 minutes, or it could take over an hour. Make sure you see every corner of the place, and keep your eyes open for cleanliness and friendliness everywhere you go. Try to stay for a meal so you can determine whether the food's up to your standards and whether it'll make your loved one happy.
Spend some time talking to staff at every level. Ask the medical staff and nurses your medical questions, but chat with the housekeepers and caregivers to get a sense of their helpfulness and kindness toward residents. If possible, try to talk to some of the residents to see how they feel about their community.