Assisted Living vs Memory Care: What’s The Difference?

Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

Assisted living and memory care are both long term care facilities for those who require help with several activities of daily living. Memory care provides enhanced long-term care for seniors with memory loss or memory issues (such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia) and may be a part of an assisted living facility or its own stand-alone facility.

Who is Assisted Living Best For?

Assisted living is best suited for a senior who only requires help with activities of daily living (or ADLs). They have mostly capable cognitive ability and reasoning but are unable to live completely independently. Assisted living communities typically provide independent living and social activities but may also provide enhanced levels of care.

Read More: What is Assisted Living?

Who is Memory Care Best For?

Memory care is the best option for seniors with dementia, memory loss, or other forms of cognitive impairment which require a higher level of care. It is meant for those unable to live independently and require significant help with ADLs and daily tasks. Memory care residents benefit from routine and specialized environments, trained staff members and additional security and safety measures. 


Many activities are offered as services in assisted living and memory care units. These activities offer entertainment and socialization while decreasing isolation and depression for the resident.  

Activities in Assisted Living

Activities provided in assisted living typically provide entertainment, socialization, and companionship. The variety of activities provided will vary depending on the facility. Many facilities will provide a monthly calendar of activities and it may be worth reviewing some of the activities offered to see if they align with an individual’s interests and hobbies. Some common examples of assisted living activities include: 

  • Cooking
  • Crafting
  • Book clubs
  • Gardening
  • Cultural activities 
  • Social programs (holiday celebrations)
  • Educational programs
  • Bingo
  • Pet visits
  • Music
  • Art therapy

Activities in Memory Care

Memory care units may provide specialized activities that support cognitive needs. These activities are beneficial because they may prevent challenging behaviors by keeping residents busy and involved in their surroundings. 

Memory care activities may include various forms of therapies. These help to relax the resident,  engage the senses, help slow mental impairment and lower stress and anxiety. These therapies may include:

  • Music, art, video, speech and pet therapy
  • Puzzles, sensory boxes and games
  • Memory boxes (looking at photo albums, cook books, etc) 
  • Cooking and baking 
  • Supervised outings


Various amenities are offered as services or assistance with ADLs in assisted living and memory care units. These may vary based on facility. Which amenities are offered may make a big difference when choosing a facility.  

Amenities in Assisted Living 

Assisted living facilities provide amenities which often assist with ADLs or go beyond to offer a sense of autonomy with tasks and have a big influence on the social setting for the senior living community. Some typical facility amenities provided include:

  • Medication management
  • Housekeeping, laundry and linen services
  • Salons and barber shops
  • Fitness center
  • Dining rooms
  • Library
  • Computers
  • Game rooms
  • Gardens
  • Pet-friendly services 

Related: How to Talk to Parents About Assisted Living

Amenities in Memory Care

Amenities in memory care may be similar to assisted living amenities. However, they may be different or include extra amenities for those with cognitive impairment. These may include:

  • Therapy rooms for arts, crafts and music 
  • Security and safety systems (fences, noninvasive anti-wandering devices and cameras)
  • Relaxation room
  • Common room with television and/or game room
  • Garden
  • Office space for on-site doctor visits
  • Medical alert bracelets
  • On-site security 
  • Music therapy

Staff Training

Staff training is crucial in assisted living facilities and memory care units because the staff are responsible for the residents’ overall well-being. Properly trained staff assist in maintaining safety, routine and care. While each facility varies by state regulations, there are commonalities in staff types and training. Memory care staff training may require in-depth training in dementia. 

Staff Training in Assisted Living

There is a wide variety of care provided to residents in assisted living facilities. The staff may consist of professionals such as: 

  • Nurses, nurses aides and assistants
  • Personal care aids (that assist with custodial care – activities such as dressing and bathing)
  • Housekeeping
  • Janitorial staff
  • Directors of activities and recreation 
  • Transportation staff
  • Counselors
  • Food preparation staff

Staff responsible for interacting with residents may require training in various healthcare topics. As assisted living facilities are regulated at the state level (opposed to skilled nursing facilities which are federally regulated), certifications and training will vary depending on the state of the facility. All staff should be trained in company policy and procedures, compliance programs, reporting and regulation standards, infection prevention and control as well as CPR and first aid.

According to the California Assisted Living Association, all staff working with residents requiring ADLs must complete 40 hours (plus 20 hours each year) in topics such as: aging, physical limitations, special needs, techniques of personal care, resident and personal rights, medication policies and procedures, psychosocial needs of seniors, signs and symptoms of dementia, responses to emergencies and cultural sensitivity.1

Staff Training in Memory Care

Staff in memory care units may require extra training or specific qualifications in order to interact with memory care residents, although these may vary and range in hours and topics. Training may include: techniques for de-escalation, progressive cognitive strategies, how dementia affects the brain and comfort care and communication techniques when interacting with dementia residents.2

Specialized dementia care training may also look like: medication training in dementia patients (antipsychotics) and the effects, specialized approaches to dementia care and common problems, communication, positive therapeutic activities, changes in behaviors, assistance with ADLs, responding to behavior triggers as well as safety and supervision.1

Properly trained staff lead to a reduction in resident crisis, lowers caregiving stress and creates better living standards. It is important to ask questions about specific staff training and qualifications when contemplating a memory care unit or facility as well as how staff stay up to date with techniques for dementia care.

Safety & Security

Safety and security can be one of the top reasons for transitioning into assisted living and memory care, especially for seniors with memory impairment. These measures may provide a family member, caregiver and resident peace of mind that they are in the safest situation. Memory care units may provide even greater safety and security measures for residents. 

Safety and Security in Assisted Living

Mandated and individual facility rules, regulations, policies and tools provide safety and security measures in assisted living. Many facilities vary on these; however, some common safety measures include:

  • Qualified and trained healthcare professionals
  • Round-the-clock care
  • Background checks and adequate training of staff
  • Fall prevention measures 
  • Medication procedures and policies
  • Infection control measures 
  • Cameras and security systems 

Related: Assisted Living Requirements & Eligibility for Care

Safety and Security in Memory Care

Many of the safety and security measures of assisted living overlap with memory care units, wings and facilities. However, specialized and enhanced support systems may be in place to ensure the safety of the residents with memory problems. Memory care may provide enhanced safety and security measures to prevent wandering and self-harm such as 24/7 security and lower staff to patient ratios. The environment of memory care may be designed in a certain way to minimize resident overstimulation and disorientation.


Costs for assisted living and memory care can vary. According to a Cost of Care by Genworth, the average cost of assisted living in California is $4,500 per month with a range from $3,000 to $6,000 per month. Memory care ranges anywhere from 20% to 30% more, or anywhere from $900 to $1,400 per month more.

Cost of Assisted Living

Many factors weigh into the cost of assisted living. Facility size, types of services provided and amount of services required affect monthly costs. With over 800,000 Americans in assisted living facilities, the median cost for assisted living in the U.S. was $4,300 per month or $51,600 per year according to a National Center for Assisted Living report.4 Typically, spouses do not pay double for room and board if sharing an apartment or unit, but may pay per person depending on services required.  See more about the cost of assisted living. Long-term care insurance is typically the only type of insurance that helps pay for assisted living costs and typically costs in the range of $2,000 – $9,000 per year depending on factors like age, health, and coverage specifics.

Related: Does Long Term Care Insurance Cover Assisted Living?

Cost of Memory Care 

As with assisted living, memory care costs can have a wide range. According to A Place For Mom, the median cost of memory care is around $5,250 per month with costs surpassing assisted living by more than $1,000. This may be due to the specific environment set up for dementia care, staff training and skills required to manage memory care units as well as smaller staff to resident ratios. Many memory care wings or stand-alone facilities tend to be all-inclusive and pay one fee per month. However, there may be extra costs such as care for incontinence or organized outings.5


Medicare is a federal health insurance program for individuals 65 years and older and some exceptions for younger individuals. Medicare is broken up into various parts that assist in covering health care costs. Medicare may be used for medical care while residing in an assisted living facility or memory care unit; however, it does not cover the overall costs. 

Medicare Coverage for Assisted Living

In an assisted living facility, Medicare will not cover costs associated with room and board or assistance with ADLs (often referred to as custodial care). It may cover costs associated with medical treatments provided by the facility. Medicare will pay for short-term skilled nursing care or short term stays at skilled nursing facilities. Medicare Advantage plans may provide more coverage.

See more about medicare covering assisted living

Medicare Coverage for Memory Care

Much like assisted living, Medicare does not cover aspects of memory care units such as rent, meals or help with ADLs . However, they may provide financial coverage for certain medical expenses.6 

Always check with a Medicare representative regarding coverage as there are variances with individual policies. 

Deciding Between Assisted Living and Memory Care

Assisted living and memory care offer help when it comes to older adults who are unable to care for themselves or live completely independently. It may be a clear choice to transition into assisted living or memory care. Or, perhaps an individual with early stages of dementia who only needs minimal support may flourish in a less restrictive setting such as assisted living. The choice requires an analysis of individual needs such as level of care required and cognitive ability. 


Can you Get Memory Care in Assisted Living? 

Yes, some assisted living facilities offer specialized memory care units. Around 14% of assisted living facilities have a designated dementia care wing, unit or floor.7

When Should I Move From Assisted Living to Memory Care?

Assisted living staff may help individuals and family members decide when it may be time to move from assisted living to memory care. Some notable signs include: needing total assistance with ADLs, forgetfulness, wandering and experiencing behavior or cognitive decline.

Can A Person With Dementia Live In Assisted Living?

Yes, a person with dementia can live in assisted living. It is one of the main reasons individuals may transition into assisted living. More advanced stages of dementia may require a move to a memory care unit or facility. 

Is Memory Care More Expensive Than Assisted Living? 

Typically memory care is more expensive than assisted living for a variety of reasons including: staff training and requirements, staff-to-resident ratios and specialized services and environments for cognitively impaired residents.

Related: How to Pay for Assisted Living

More Resources


  1. California Assisted Living Association “Staff Training.” 20 February 2022. 
  2. A Place for Mom “How Memory Care Staff Are Trained in Dementia Care.” 2 March 2021. 20 February 2022. 
  3. Paying For Senior Care “Paying for Assisted Living & Home Care in California.” 4 May 2021.,ranges%20from%20%243%2C175%20to%20%245%2C853. 21 February 2022. 
  4. Senior Living “How Much Does Assisted Living and Home Care Cost in the US?” 15 February 2022. 21 February 2022. 
  5. A Place for Mom “Everything You Need to Know About the Cost of Memory Care.” 21 October 2020. 21 February 2022. 
  6. MedicareFAQ “What Does Medicare Cover for Dementia Patients.” 28 September 2021. 21 February 2022. 
  7. American Health Care Association/National Center For Assisted Living “Facts & Figures.” 21 February 2022. 
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