What Is Memory Care?

Many seniors will find that living independently with declining cognitive abilities may become increasingly difficult and unsafe. Memory care units and facilities are designed to assist those living with dementia and unable to care for themselves. Memory care is a popular choice; in the last decade, it is the top growing sector in the assisted living market.

What is Memory Care?

Memory Care is a type of long term care that provides a greater level of living support than assisted living for patients specifically with memory loss (including cognitive impairments, Alzheimer’s disease, and different forms of dementia). This care can be provided in units or wings of an assisted living community or its own stand-alone memory care community. 

In addition to helping people with daily tasks and medication management (like assisted living), memory care programs feature specialized care for memory loss patients. Memory care programs typically include: increased safety features, specialized staff members, tailored lay-outs and design for dementia residents and unique care plans and activities designed for memory care residents. This 

Who is Memory Care For?

Memory care is long-term care for seniors living with dementia or a progressive and degenerative cognitive condition such as Alzheimers. It offers a living space complete with services, specialized care as well as a safe environment for those unable to live and care for themselves independently. 

Benefits of Memory Care

The main goal of memory care is to improve quality of life for residents with memory impairment and the benefits include: 

  • Services: specialized services tailored to residents living with dementia. 
    • Assistance with activities of daily living or ADLs (bathing, grooming, toileting, etc). 
    • Meals
    • A home-like atmosphere
    • Individualized care plans
    • A calendar of activities and events
    • Medication management
    • Appointment coordination 
  • Safety: a secure environment with procedures and safety precautions in place. 
  • Independence: bettering quality of life through support in ADLs, activities, therapies and hobbies. 
  • Trained staff: assistance and care provided by specialized caregivers and medical staff. 
  • Socialization: a community setting with opportunities for cultural diversity.

Signs That it’s Time for Memory Care

There are several signs it may be time to move a senior into memory care in order to improve quality of life and maintain safety. Here are some of the important changes or signs to look for: 

  1. A change in behavior: friends and family members notice a progressive or worsening behavior change. 
  2. Agitation and aggressive state: seniors may experience common or frequent bouts of confusion which leads to agitation, aggression or physical violence. Similarly there may be signs of nervousness and being withdrawn such as avoiding a favorite hobby or fear of leaving the house. 
  3. Wandering: confusion and disorientation when leaving the house and inability to get back. 
  4. A change in hygiene: bathing or grooming habits have declined. Perhaps incontinence has developed and there is inadequate clean-up.
  5. Unsafe living conditions: hoarding, neglecting home and chores, leaving spoiled food or inability to clean-up which leads to safety hazards and fall risks. 
  6. Mismanaged medication: forgetting or incorrectly dosing medication. 
  7. Nutrition: forgetting or overeating meals and displaying signs of significant weight changes. 
  8. Caregiver burnout and resentment: family member or friend feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and experiencing negative effects due to caregiving duties.  

Related: How to Talks to Your Parents About Moving Into Assisted Living

Features & Services of Memory Care

Safety Features

Safety is a major benefit of memory care. Some commonly found safety features of memory may include:

  • Enhanced security measures: keypad entrances, gated communities, coded and secured doors, fences and windows, doorbells, fire prevention systems, motion sensors and video surveillance. 
  • Staff: appropriate number of trained staff onsite 24/7 with access to emergency response technology for the residents such as call buttons, phones and GPS capable bracelets. 
  • Tailored environment: custom lay-outs with specialized doors, clear exits, soundproof walls, curved hallways to prevent confusion, memory boxes to help remember living space or apartment front door as well as adjustable beds for limited mobility. 
  • Fall prevention: use of elevators, emergency buttons, quality lighting, non-slip flooring, handrails and medical equipment to assist with mobility. 

Staff Training & Expertise

Memory care units and facilities provide staff with specialized training. These facilities are typically state regulated. Training and certification requirements may vary on the number of hours required for certification based on location. Typically, memory care facilities require: 

  • A state long-term care license: this includes passing inspections in health and safety and providing a professionally long-term care administrator who is employed at a minimum of 40 hours per week on-site. 
  • Adult protection laws: background checks on staff. 
  • Safety Certification: first aid, CPR and tuberculosis (TB) clearance that is up-to-date. 
  • Licensing: staff with the ability to distribute and manage medication must be either a medical professional or under supervision of a registered nurse.
  • Orientation: staff training sessions specific to memory care completed before participating in direct care of residents. 
  • Annual training: administrators and staff must complete specific training in memory care on an annual basis. 

Specialized Care Plans & Activities

Specialized care plans and activities are an important aspect of memory care. Dementia patients thrive on daily routines and following care plans helps reduce anxiety. Care plans may vary but many will share several important aspects and take residents’ individual needs into account as well as go through periodic evaluation. 

A sample care plan may look like: breakfast, personal care and assistance with ADLs such as bathing and grooming, an event or activity such as painting, knitting or gardening, lunch, exercise, quiet time, reminiscing by looking at photo albums or storytelling, activities for cognitive development such as puzzles, dinner, evening activities such as a stroll and bedtime routine. 

Safe & Calming Environment

Wandering and anxiety is a major concern with dementia patients. Many memory care units and facilities attempt to safeguard against this by providing extensive safety features and by creating a calming environment. Elements of a calm environment within memory care may look like: setting a routine and care plan for residents, having calming background music to help alleviate over-stimulating noises and conversations and providing other relaxing sensory experiences such as fish tanks.  

How Much Does Memory Care Cost?

Memory care can vary greatly depending on various factors such as location of facility, individual care needs and services or accommodations provided. According to AARP, in the U.S. the average cost of memory care is $6,935 per month. 

To put that number into perspective, the average cost of assisted living is $4,300. The average cost of a nursing home is $10,562.1 The average cost of a home health aid is $5,824 per month (for seven days a week/eight hours per day) and around $17,000 if that home care is 24/7.2

Memory care may begin with a base rental rate of $2,795 to $10,030. These costs may cover room and board, daily care, meals and activities, house-keeping, laundry, linen services, emergency and fire safety systems and licensed nursing and staffing. Other extra fees may occur such as admissions and cleaning prep which can range from $385 to $6,100.3 

It is important to view a contract when touring memory care facilities in order to see a breakdown of costs. 

What’s the Difference Between Memory Care & Other Types of Senior Care?

Memory care shares similar characteristics to other types of senior care; however, it has some distinctive differences such as safety measures and specially designed environments that make it a better-suited option for seniors experiencing a decline in cognitive function and quality of life. 

Memory Care vs Assisted Living

Memory care may be located within a noninstitutionalized assisted living facility as a unit or wing or as a stand-alone facility. Assisted living and memory care share similar characteristics including a state licensed and inspected space to live and may offer similar services. 

Memory care differs from assisted living in that it may provide: limited skilled nursing care, increased security systems and precautions, individualized care plans, staff who specialize in memory care, lower staff to resident ratios, tailored environments and lay-outs as well as therapies and activities designed for dementia residents. 

Memory Care vs In-home Care

Memory care and in-home care share a similar benefit in that there is a low staff to resident ratio. However, memory care and in-home greatly differ in that in-home care is offered in the senior’s home whereas memory care takes place in a facility. 

Other unique features of memory care may include: more skilled nursing care with specially trained personnel, more assistance with medication administration, higher security features to prevent wandering as well as state-licensed and inspected facility precautions and crafted design and layouts for dementia residents. 

Memory Care vs Nursing Home 

Memory care and nursing homes also share a similarity in that care of the resident takes place in a state-licensed and inspected facility. In both types of facilities, there may be medication administration support, low staff to resident ratios and skilled nursing care (although this is more found in skilled nursing facilities where direct care is under skilled nursing staff such as RNs, LPNs and CNAs).  

It should be noted that often nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) are used interchangeably. Both provide 24/7 medical care; however, SNFs are typically for short-term stays. 

Related: Skilled Nursing Facilities vs Nursing Homes

Memory care differs in that it provides greater security measures for the resident, trained staff in memory care, specifically designed environments and layouts as well as activities and therapies for dementia residents with individualized care plans.  

How to Choose a Memory Care Facility?

There are many factors when considering a memory care facility and the choice is very personal. It is important to start by creating a budget, tour multiple facilities, line out research and consideration questions and create a “must-have” checklist. 

First, consider the resident-to-be:

  •  What is needed or required
    • What assistance is needed for ADLs? Is mobility a concern? 
    • What kind of medication administration is required? What medical conditions need to be addressed? 
    • What are the senior’s behavioral needs and do they wander? 
    • What safety and supervision is required?
  •  Care plans
    • Who is involved with creating care plans and how often are they re-evaluated? 
    • How are plans developed? 

Then, consider the facets of the memory care unit or facility: 

  •  Amenities and services:
    • What are the accommodations like?
    • What is the meal plan? How are they served? 
    • What other services, therapies and activities are offered? 
  • Staff:
    • What are the training, qualifications and accreditations of staff and the facility?
    • What techniques do staff use for dementia residents?
    • What is the staff to resident ratio? 
  • Safety:
    • Is there 24/7 supervision?
    • What emergency systems are in place? 
    • How is the facility secure? Are there keypad entries, alarms, call buttons, appropriate locks and fences, good lighting, etc? 
    • What are the medical services and staff available in an emergency? 
  • Design:
    • How does the layout tailor to dementia residents? 

This checklist is a great resource to bring when touring a facility. 

Finally, Interview multiple staff personnel and review the contract to see cost breakdowns and fees. Trust instincts when it comes to a facility that feels as if it can provide peace of mind and quality care. 


  1. https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2019/memory-care-alzheimers-dementia.html 
  2. https://www.fivestarseniorliving.com/blog/how-much-does-memory-care-cost
  3. https://www.brookdale.com/en/our-services/memory-care/memory-care-costs.html#
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