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Your Complete Guide to Memory Care

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What is memory care?

Memory care is a type of long-term care environment that caters to the specific needs of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Memory care facilities offer 24-hour care, specialized staff, memory-enhancing activities and therapies, and secure environments. Memory care also provides meals, housekeeping, and assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and toileting.

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What are the benefits of memory care?

Memory care facilities offer a safe, uniquely designed environment for residents with a focus on improving quality of life, reducing confusion, and preventing wandering. The following services and amenities help communities achieve those goals:

  • A secure environment to prevent wandering
  • Experienced staff, trained in dementia care
  • Supportive dementia therapies
  • Unique layouts to reduce confusion
  • High staff-to-resident ratio
  • Person-centered dementia care
  • Coordinated care with other health care providers

Memory care staff provide care for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other types with dementia.

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How does memory care help seniors with memory loss?

Dementia symptoms and behaviors progressively worsen over time, often leaving elderly adults unable to live independently. Memory care facilities offer the specialized support and supervision that seniors with dementia need to maintain their physical and emotional health.

Someone with advanced dementia needs 24-hour supervised care in a secure environment. In later stages of their disease, many people have difficulty performing simple activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and using the toilet. Disorientation, confusion, and sometimes aggression also tend to get worse, affecting seniors with dementia and those around them.

Memory care focuses on improving quality of life for seniors with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia through personalized care plans and memory-enhancing activities and therapies. These dementia care facilities specialize in caring for people with memory loss through staff training and unique programs and building layouts to help increase residents’ well-being and sense of familiarity.

Important memory care facility features include:

  • Trained staff, who are knowledgeable in dementia strategies and techniques to prevent and minimize wandering, sundown syndrome, and combative behaviors
  • Personalized care focusing on each resident’s individual needs
  • Memory-enhancing activities that range from music and art therapy to sensory stimulation, aromatherapy, and more
  • Secure facilities with keypad entrances for family and staff, plus color-coded walls and clearly labeled spaces to help seniors find their way

Memory care promotes a safe, calming environment

Memory care facilities are well-equipped to prevent wandering, a common but dangerous dementia and Alzheimer’s behavior. People who wander may get lost or hurt.

Residents’ safety is a priority in memory care facilities. Memory care offers a secure environment with locked exterior doors, so that no one may leave or enter unnoticed. These communities may also have keypads or doorbells at entrances and exits to help staff monitor who enters and leaves the building. Many facilities feature enclosed gardens or courtyards to allow residents to safely spend time outdoors.

Memory care communities are often designed to reduce confusion and disorientation, both of which can lead to wandering. Clearly identified spaces, personalized apartments, proper lighting, and reduced background noise are some of the thoughtful design elements in memory care. They promote a sense of safety, calm, and familiarity that helps residents relax and feel at home.

So what should families look for when touring a memory care community and observing the environment? Amy McLoughlin, a learning and development specialist at A Place for Mom with more than 17 years of experience helping families navigate senior care, says there are some unique features that can make a community comfortable and welcoming to residents with dementia.

“My favorite example is when a landscape mural is painted across the wall, doorway, and sometimes even the floor of a memory care unit’s locked entryway.” McLoughlin says. “The reality is that the resident is coming up against a hard stop or boundary that they’re not going to be able to pass, but what they see is a beautiful waterscape with no bridge to cross, and perhaps a real-life bench where you can sit and enjoy all the things happening in the mural.”

McLoughlin also explains that sensory rooms can be a “godsend” in terms of de-escalation: “This could be a full room or just a little nook with white noise, low or specialty lighting, super soft or weighted blankets, and aromatherapy to soothe the resident’s sympathetic nervous system.”

Memory care facilities are often a part of a larger senior living community. For example, many assisted living facilities have a separate wing designated for memory care. In other cases, memory care facilities are standalone communities exclusively for residents with memory loss.

Specialized dementia care is available 24/7

Staff in memory care facilities receive specific, thorough, and regular training to provide round-the-clock quality care for seniors with memory loss. Memory care residents are often encouraged to be as independent as possible according to their abilities while getting the support they need.

A high staff-to-resident ratio at memory care facilities allows for more social interaction and time to care for each individual’s needs. Staff help residents stay engaged with social and enriching activities, like brain games and art classes, which stimulate memory and encourage seniors to maintain their skills.

Using specific dementia care techniques, memory care staff are also trained to manage dementia symptoms — including difficult and combative behaviors — in a kind, compassionate manner. Communities emphasize a non-drug approach to dementia care and behavior management, reducing the need for antipsychotic medication.

It may be difficult for family caregivers to provide this same level of full-time care for a loved one with advanced dementia while juggling other responsibilities, such as work and children. The physical and emotional stress of caring for someone with dementia puts caregivers at risk for health problems and decreased quality of life, and that stress may lead to burnout. Memory care provides much-needed support for caregivers while offering exceptional care for people with memory loss.

Communities coordinate care for memory care residents

Staff at memory care communities may also work with other health care providers to ensure residents receive the care they need. Care coordination at memory care facilities may include:

  • Organizing care with outside health care providers, such as primary care physicians, podiatrists, cardiologists, dentists, and more
  • Setting up home health appointments for residents recovering from illnesses or injuries
  • Transportation to medical appointments
  • Medication management and diabetes support
  • Helping with rehabilitation services, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy to bring services on-site as needed, making appointments more convenient to residents
  • Arranging hospice care while keeping residents comfortable

Memory care provides person-centered care for dementia

Many memory facilities offer person-centered care for seniors with dementia. These communities take a personalized approach to dementia care by understanding a senior’s preferences, past experiences, abilities, and care needs.

Staff in these memory care facilities develop a relationship with residents and family members to get a holistic understanding of the person who will receive care. This approach allows them to develop a customized dementia care plan to better meet the resident’s unique needs and support their health and emotional well-being. It also helps them communicate more effectively with residents and plan activities according to their needs and abilities.

Communities offer dementia-specific therapies

Memory care facilities often offer supportive therapies and activities for dementia that help with behavior problems by increasing relaxation, reducing agitation, and improving mood. These may include:

  • Occupational therapy to help teach seniors coping strategies to compensate for memory loss and cognitive decline
  • Music therapy, as research shows that listening to soothing music or singing songs with dementia patients can help improve cognition and reduce agitation and aggressive behavior
  • Pet therapy for companionship, which many memory care facilities provide by having a resident pet, usually a dog or a cat
  • Art therapy, which is believed to slow cognitive decline and improve quality of life
  • Aromatherapy, which uses scent to evoke memories, and may help reduce agitation in older adults who have memory loss
  • Reminiscence therapy, which uses sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound to help seniors with memory loss remember people, events, and places

Real-life implementation of reminiscence therapy in memory care often involves recreating tasks from earlier in a resident’s life.

“Being able to perform activities that contribute to the resident’s world allows them to feel their self-worth,” McLoughlin explains. “There may be a small desk with a typewriter, rotary phone, and a few files to sort and put away. Other examples are a baby doll, crib, rocking chair, and a few cloth diapers or blankets to choose from, a laundry basket with clothes that need folding, or a workbench with realistic tools.”

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What’s the difference between memory care and other senior care types?

Like other senior living options, memory care is a type of long-term care that offers supervision, room and board, and assistance with daily activities. But here’s the key distinction: Memory care provides intensive services and techniques specifically for people with dementia. We’ll explore the differences between care types below.

Memory care vs. assisted living: Like assisted living facilities, memory care communities provide housing, meal services, supervised care, and help with daily tasks, including hygiene, mobility, and more. However, memory care specializes in caring for people with memory loss. This means staff are well-equipped to accommodate the unique needs of dementia patients, and spaces and activities are designed for residents with cognitive decline.

Many assisted living facilities also offer on-site memory care in a dedicated wing or unit, meaning a resident with early-stage dementia may be able to move to assisted living and later, as their disease progresses, transition to memory care at the same community.

Memory care vs. nursing homes: Both memory care facilities and nursing homes offer full-time care for seniors with memory loss. Care for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia at memory care facilities and nursing homes both include long-term housing, meal services, medication management, assistance with daily activities — such as bathing, grooming, and using the toilet — and more.

The key distinction here, however, is that nursing home residents typically require more intensive medical care. Seniors who need nursing home care don’t need to be hospitalized, but they may be debilitated, bedridden, or in need of a wheelchair. This means that the level of medical care at nursing homes focuses more on physical care than memory care.

Memory care vs. home care: Home care offers care for seniors with dementia who wish to age in place. It may also provide support and respite for dementia caregivers. Home care aides are trained in senior care and can provide companionship, help with activities of daily living, light housekeeping, cooking, transportation, and more. While home care offers one-on-one care tailored to individual needs, it can’t provide all of the social engagement and the specialized therapies found at memory care facilities. It may also be difficult or expensive to adapt a home to make it safe for someone with advanced dementia.

The level of care provided by home care aides is based on needs, and costs are calculated by the type of care provided. Home care fees are charged by the hour. This means that home care may be an expensive alternative to memory care, depending on how much care a person needs.

Memory care vs. other senior care types: What’s the difference?

ServicesMemory CareNursing HomesAssisted Living
Private or shared roomsxxx
Meal servicesxxx
Housekeeping and laundry servicesxxx
Social activitiesxxx
Medication managementxxx
Help with daily activities (ADLs)xxx
Exercise and physical therapy as neededxxx
Specialized care for patients with memory lossxx
24-hour care and supervisionxx
Secured entrances and exits to prevent wanderingxx
Memory-enhancing therapiesx
Transportation to appointmentsxx
Unique facility layout and design to reduce confusionx

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Is memory care right for my loved one?

Memory care is for seniors experiencing cognitive decline. Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia is progressive and is classified in stages that relate to levels of cognitive impairment and symptoms.

Whether your loved one has just been diagnosed with dementia or is showing signs of increasing cognitive decline, understanding what to expect as their disease progresses and the type of care they need at each stage can help you plan.

Memory care residents are often people with more advanced dementia. While some people with early- to middle-stage dementia may do well at home or at an assisted living facility, many families opt for memory care as their loved one’s dementia symptoms and behaviors worsen. But recognizing exactly when that move to memory care is necessary can be a challenge for family members.

If your loved one is already receiving in-home care, attending adult day care, or living in assisted living, McLoughlin says that their caregivers are likely the best barometer for how sustainable the current arrangement is. “The community’s director will certainly let you know if any concerning behaviors that could warrant a move to a higher level of care are starting to pop up,” she explains.

Seniors with greater cognitive decline often need more assistance than caregivers are able to provide at home or at an assisted living community. People with late-stage dementia become unable to care for themselves and need round-the-clock care and supervision to keep them safe and to ensure quality of life. Memory care offers a higher staff-to-resident ratio, which means residents can receive the care and attention they need.

The specialized care and therapies available at memory care facilities teach coping strategies that enable seniors to compensate for memory loss, increasing confidence while keeping them safe. Memory care also provides a structured environment, with daily routines and stimulating activities to foster independence.

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When is it time for memory care?

It may be time for memory care if:

  • It’s become increasingly overwhelming to manage dementia behaviors, such as agitation and aggression, at home.
  • Your relative’s daily hygiene needs aren’t being met.
  • Sleep problems have become unmanageable.
  • Your relative wanders and you’re concerned about their safety.
  • You’re unable to adapt the home to keep your loved one safe from falls and other accidents.
  • Your loved one is unable to properly manage their medications.
  • Your loved one is losing weight or not getting adequate nutrition.
  • You’re a caregiver who’s burned out, worried about your own health, or concerned about your own safety or the safety of your family.

Assess the situation carefully to determine how long your loved one can age in place safely. Talk to their doctor, other care providers, or a geriatric care manager.

Daughter having tea and spending time with elderly father

As dementia progresses, it may be difficult to keep seniors with memory loss safe at home.

Assessing your own needs when it’s time for memory care

Many families struggle with feelings of sadness and grief as dementia progresses. It’s difficult to witness your parent’s declining health and to think about all the memories lost.

You may also be reluctant to delegate the care of your loved one. When it comes time to move a family member to a memory care facility, the feelings of guilt may become overwhelming. However, delaying a move to memory care may present certain risks to your relationship with your loved one, their health, and your own.

Consider your loved one’s needs and your ability to provide care. Ask yourself the following questions to see if your loved one is ready to become a memory care resident:

  • Can I keep them safe from falls and other accidents?
  • Do I feel confident my home is secure enough to prevent wandering?
  • Am I able to keep track of their medications and health needs?
  • Can I provide proper stimulation to help delay further cognitive decline?

You may also struggle with talking to other family members about your loved one’s care or telling them you can no longer be a caregiver. Seeking support to care for a loved one with memory loss doesn’t make you selfish or uncaring. Ultimately, you want what’s best for your loved one, yourself, and your family.

“Your body will start to give you subtle clues about the toll caregiving is taking on your health,” McLoughlin explains. “When the ‘caregiver bell’ rings, what happens inside your body? Do you feel your jaw tighten? Do your shoulders make a beeline for your ears? Does your stomach sink a little?”

McLoughlin also says caregivers may find themselves reacting in ways they regret later.

“You know intelligently that it’s the disease causing your loved one to act or speak a particular way, but after months of enduring these changes in behavior, it can wear you down,” she says. “When you start catching yourself arguing with your loved one, snapping back, or acting in a way that makes you feel even worse in this difficult situation, you know it’s time to bring in additional support.”

Finally, McLoughlin urges family caregivers to consider their own feelings, especially if they’re experiencing joylessness.

“Caregivers have to remember that their loved ones still love them back,” she says. “They would probably never want or expect you to sacrifice all of your own health and happiness.”

Focus on what you can do to help keep them safe and to preserve their quality of life. While you can’t change your loved one’s diagnosis, you can help by choosing the right type of care for them. 

Our Senior Living Advisors can help guide your decision by understanding your loved one’s needs, preferences, and financial resources to pay for care. They can connect you with facilities for in-person or virtual tours, where you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and see everyday life in the community. Once you select a community, staff will perform a medical and skills assessment to get a full picture of your loved one’s abilities and needs, which will help staff make sure your family member receives the right type of care.

Memory care requirements for residents

Memory care residents generally must be assessed before moving into a community. Staff will work with your loved one’s doctor to determine their health care needs as well as their personal care needs. Depending on the level of support the community provides, your relative may have to be able to do some things on their own.

For example, some communities require seniors to be able to transfer independently from a bed to a wheelchair, or to be able to chew and swallow food without assistance. Speak with prospective communities to ensure your loved one meets their admission requirements.

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How much does memory care cost?

The median cost of memory care is approximately $5,995 per month, according to A Place for Mom’s 2023 report on the cost of long-term care. Prices vary depending on location, amenities, and care needs. While some services like meals, medication management, and group activities are included, others are optional. For example, residents may have access to laundry services, lunch outings, or beauty services, like haircuts or manicures, but these may cost extra.

Apartment size and floor plan also affect the price. For example, does your loved one need a one-bedroom suite, or will a studio be sufficient? Would they enjoy having a roommate?

When you’re considering a memory care facility, it’s important to understand how prices are calculated, what’s included, and what’s not. Be sure to also ask how often rates increase and whether a deposit or entry fee is required.

In general, memory care costs more than independent and assisted living but less than nursing homes.

How do I pay for memory care?

While many families look to savings to finance senior care, there are other little-known funding sources that can help, including:

  • Veterans benefits. A veteran or their widowed spouse may benefit from the Aid and Attendance program. If your loved one is eligible, they may receive supplemental income to help pay for senior care at a memory care facility.
  • Home equity. If your parent owns a home, you may be able to sell it, rent it, or apply for a reverse mortgage to convert equity into funds to pay for memory care.
  • Long-term care insurance. Ask your loved one if they’ve purchased long-term care insurance. Depending on the terms, this type of insurance may cover their care at a memory care facility.
  • Life insurance. Check if your loved one’s life insurance policy may be sold for a lump sum to help fund memory care.
  • Bridge loan. Short-term loans can help fund memory care while you’re selling your parent’s home or liquidating other assets to cover costs.
  • Medicaid. If your relative qualifies, Medicaid may cover some expenses for memory care.

Read more: How to Pay for Memory Care: Surprising Tips for Families

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How do I choose a memory care facility?

When you’re choosing a memory care community for a loved one with dementia, their specific needs and preferences should guide the decision. For example, if your loved one wanders, safety is a key priority. Or, if combative behavior is an issue, understanding the community’s approach to preventing and handling aggressive dementia behaviors is important. 

Ultimately, there’s no substitute for visiting a community and experiencing a typical day there. Touring a memory care facility provides opportunities to see the layout of the building, witness staff interactions with residents, try a meal, participate in activities, and talk to other residents. Most memory care communities also offer virtual tours if an in-person visit isn’t possible. 

As you tour different memory care facilities, take the opportunity to ask important questions that will help you determine if the community is right for your loved one. Before the visit, create a list of questions that includes topics like safety measures, features and amenities, staff training, and more.

Below are a few factors to consider when choosing a memory care community for a loved one.

  • Safety features. As you tour a community, ask how they use technology and security protocols to monitor resident safety and ensure well-being. Be on the lookout for secure entrances and exits, enclosed courtyards, emergency alert systems, and accessible spaces.
  • Staff-to-resident ratios and staff training. Seniors with cognitive impairment need support and attention throughout the day. Experienced staff who understand dementia symptoms and behaviors, and know how to address them effectively and compassionately, can make a big difference in your loved one’s quality of life at a memory care facility. You may want to ask about staff training requirements, facility accreditation, and certifications.
  • Dementia care plans and tailored activity programs. A person-centered approach in dementia care means care is designed to support individual needs. Many memory care facilities offer customized care. Programs and activities are planned according to residents’ needs and interests. A care plan can help determine what level of memory care your loved one needs. Consider whether staff members take the time to get to know residents and whether those interactions affect activity choices and care plan management.
  • Facility layouts. Many dementia and Alzheimer’s care facilities are designed to feel more like home. Floor plans are easy to navigate, with clearly marked exits and labeled rooms. Some communities also feature soundproof walls, which may help reduce agitation and confusion. When touring different memory care facilities, keep an eye out for these details. A thoughtful building layout can aid in your loved one’s transition to the community.

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How do I move a loved one to memory care?

Communication is key when it comes to moving a loved one into a memory care community. Luckily, there are steps you can take to ease the transition:

  • Talk with your loved one in advance. Sharing information at the right time can make a transition go more smoothly for a senior with dementia or memory loss. While some seniors prefer to be involved in decision-making, others with lower cognitive ability may not fully understand. Lean on memory care staff expertise for tips and advice on how to start the conversation, and be sure to ask whether transition programs are available to get seniors acquainted with staff and the community.
  • Downsize before moving. Consider which of your loved one’s possessions would be best to bring along to their new home. Which belongings do they use on a daily basis? What will help their new space feel like home and elicit positive memories?
  • Get moving help. If the practical side of moving your loved one to memory care is increasing your stress, plan ahead and consider getting expert assistance from a senior move manager or care coordinator.
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How do I ease my loved one's transition to a memory care facility?

When you’re moving a loved one to memory care, it’s important to be realistic about your expectations. Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia often get confused, and changes in routine may increase stress, so here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Understand that it may take some time for your loved one to adapt. 
  • Be optimistic about the move and the facility to help encourage your senior loved one. 
  • Focus on positive aspects, such as the programs and activities, quality of care, and social interactions.

Finally, after you’ve done your research and selected the right memory care community for your loved one, find comfort in knowing that providing the right type of care helps improve their quality of life, and take steps to help your family member transition.

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How do I find a memory care facility?

If you’re unsure about how to start your search, our Senior Living Advisors can help connect you with memory care communities in your area. Our local senior living experts who can help you consider your loved one’s needs, your expectations for care, and your financial resources to find the right care for your loved one.

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Memory Care

Memory care facilities provide housing, care, and therapies for seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia in an environment designed to reduce confusion and prevent wandering.

The score shown is the overall experience rating which is an average of the reviews submitted for those communities. The overall experience rating is a star rating that ranges from 1 being the lowest to 5 being the highest.

Below are the 51 largest cities grouped by their metropolitan area.

Top states for Memory Care

California (CA)
1473 facilities
Oregon (OR)
426 facilities
Washington (WA)
537 facilities
Massachusetts (MA)
351 facilities
Texas (TX)
1190 facilities
Ohio (OH)
859 facilities
Wisconsin (WI)
1052 facilities
Colorado (CO)
344 facilities
Idaho (ID)
143 facilities
Illinois (IL)
688 facilities
Virginia (VA)
459 facilities
Maryland (MD)
232 facilities
Arizona (AZ)
570 facilities
Florida (FL)
1559 facilities
South Carolina (SC)
393 facilities
Nevada (NV)
118 facilities
Pennsylvania (PA)
1093 facilities
Minnesota (MN)
820 facilities
Louisiana (LA)
113 facilities
New York (NY)
495 facilities
Michigan (MI)
805 facilities
Georgia (GA)
613 facilities
Iowa (IA)
470 facilities
Delaware (DE)
40 facilities
Maine (ME)
144 facilities
Tennessee (TN)
436 facilities
Kansas (KS)
268 facilities
Indiana (IN)
480 facilities
New Jersey (NJ)
356 facilities
Mississippi (MS)
182 facilities
Oklahoma (OK)
244 facilities
Missouri (MO)
522 facilities
New Hampshire (NH)
95 facilities
Kentucky (KY)
270 facilities
North Carolina (NC)
658 facilities
North Dakota (ND)
101 facilities
Connecticut (CT)
171 facilities
Alabama (AL)
293 facilities
Nebraska (NE)
304 facilities
Montana (MT)
125 facilities
Utah (UT)
164 facilities
Arkansas (AR)
135 facilities
Rhode Island (RI)
66 facilities
Wyoming (WY)
47 facilities
West Virginia (WV)
58 facilities
New Mexico (NM)
107 facilities
Vermont (VT)
57 facilities
South Dakota (SD)
127 facilities
Alaska (AK)
39 facilities
Hawaii (HI)
32 facilities

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