Assisted Living vs. Memory Care: 6 Key Differences

As our loved ones advance in age, it becomes tasking to care for them, especially when they have health issues, including cognitive impairments (conditions affecting brain functioning) such as Alzheimer’s disease. They struggle to live safely and manage typical activities of daily living at home, making it difficult for us to leave them unsupervised. A possible solution to this could be to hire a live-in nanny, who has little or no training in elderly care, to cater to their needs. This will take the work off our hands but, it won’t be beneficial to our elderly loved ones especially if they experiencing memory problems.Elderly Patient Being Treated By Nurse

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That’s where a long-term care facility comes into play. They offer supportive care provided by well-trained staff, healthcare, a relaxing & safe environment, and so much more. But figuring out what type of facility is right for our loved ones can be challenging. Knowing the differences between the various types will prove helpful in our search for the best option.

In this article, you shall get an insight on 2 popular and fast-growing senior living communities — assisted living and memory care facilities —, starting with overviews on what these are and finishing off with 6 major differences between them.

Assisted living

It is typically designed for seniors who have a level of independence, as their reasoning skills are still intact, but need assistance with activities of daily life (ADL) such as bathing, cooking, toileting, taking medications, and grooming. These facilities generally provide a home-like setting and are physically designed to promote the resident’s independence.

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Memory care

Provides long-term skilled care specifically for individuals living with dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that affect a person’s ability to function independently — who cannot live on their own. Communities that offer memory care such as Sunflower Communities provide around-the-clock supervised care including meals, routine medical care, and activities designed to help residents work on their cognitive abilities, while also getting to enjoy passions and hobbies.

Differences between the two

Both memory care and assisted living offer supportive care to people with a wide range of health issues. However, they differ in certain areas.

1. Safety

Assisted living communities do offer safety features like in-room emergency alert systems and daily check-ins. But, for seniors with memory loss, increased safety is a major concern. Thus, memory care communities provide environmental security such as locked and alarmed entrances and exits, along with wander devices (wearable trackers) to prevent common but dangerous dementia behaviors like wandering and falls. Although, most facilities provide safe and secure outside areas for residents to spend time. Memory care also offers calming therapy within soothing spaces to reduce agitation and confusion that may lead to aggression or self-harm.

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2. Staff training

The two communities share similar staff, such as nurses and nursing assistants. However, memory care communities boast of well-equipped staff that has additional training and experience with the issues people living with dementia often face — swallowing, wandering, anxiety, problems with communicating and focusing, memory loss, confusion — and understand how to compassionately prevent and manage the difficult behaviors.

Memory care facilities have a higher staff-to-resident ratio than assisted living facilities thereby, give residents more one-on-one attention.

3. Specialized activities

While assisted living communities focus on entertaining residents by offering them plenty of social opportunities along with a wide range of activities — exercise classes, book clubs, games, outings, and more — to appeal to different interests, memory care communities offer group and individual activities and therapies designed for seniors living with cognitive impairments. The latter provide personalized care, activities tailored to interests, and programs that encompass all aspects of health — mental, physical, spiritual, emotional.

The therapies may include:

    • Music therapy, which is relaxing, reduces agitation and can help residents access different parts of the brain.
    • Art therapy
    • Reminiscence therapy, which involves the use of the 5 senses — sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing — to help remember events of the past.
    • Pet therapy, for companionship.

4. Feeding

Assisted living communities offer 3 meals per day, often in a wonderfully social setting. Memory care communities not only offer meals and socialization around the table but, provide an environment that is conducive to independence. Also, because dementia complicates nutrition and some foods trigger sundowning — a state of confusion occurring in the late afternoon and spanning into the night that leads to sleeplessness —, this community maps out specialized diets to ensure residents eat the calories they need and avoid such triggers. They also provide them with multiple choices while being served in an environment that is less distracting.

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5. Cost

Many factors affect the cost of both facilities like location, room size, whether a space is shared, services provided. Assisted living charges monthly. The fee covers room, 3 meals a day, most activities (outings cost extra), weekly housekeeping, transport to and fro medical appointments. Help with activities of daily living is normally an additional charge, depending on how much assistance is needed. In the US, the price range is $3,000-$6,500 a month, with an average rate of $4,300 a month.

Memory care tends to be higher because they offer specialized care and nursing services that assisted living communities typically do not offer. In the US, the price range is $3,800-$7,395 or more a month, with an average rate of $5,250 a month.

6. Layout

This may vary depending on the particular care facilities in your residence, but many assisted living communities offer gyms, grooming facilities like beauty salons and barber shops, outdoor spaces, transportation services for outings and medical appointments, library and recreation room, relaxation rooms.

Memory care communities often feature many of these same amenities, but most importantly, they provide a unique layout and design feature to help orient residents and reduce confusion. These features may include clearly defined common areas, color-coded walls to make it easier for those with memory loss to find their way, outdoor gardens to prevent patients from feeling trapped or confined, large windows for more natural light to reduce sundowning, calming colors.

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In all, the best way to determine which is best for an aged loved one will be to examine their health status and consequential support needs. Those with intact reasoning abilities and those with early dementia, who live well independently or only need a little help with ADL may thrive in an assisted living community. Whereas, if they struggle with daily functioning, need support most of the time, or seems afraid and lonely living at home, a memory care community is for them. Also, asking them questions and making sure they are comfortable when you visit the community, asking questions about the community is very important.




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