How Memory Care for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Differs from Assisted Living

When your loved one receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, life changes—and even people who are prepared aren’t really prepared. Suddenly, you are put in a position to plan for the future and advocate for your loved one, while simultaneously involving them in the process and coping with your own grief. It’s a lot for anyone to handle, and without the right support and resources in place, you can find yourself feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

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Fortunately, there are plenty of reliable resources and exceptional services available, both online and offline, that are designed to keep your loved one safe and comfortable. 

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to sift through the volume of available resources, especially because dementia is a progressive disease and you may need resources for both assisted living and memory care. What your loved one needs now is not necessarily what they will need in the immediate future.

You need help. Everyone in this situation needs help. 

Finding a memory care community is a wise idea for your loved one’s future needs. Although some communities offer just memory care, many senior living communities offer both memory care and assisted living.

Learning more about memory care options can point you in the direction that ensures your loved one will be safe and healthy for as long as possible, and that you’ll have the reassurance that they’re being cared for. Here is what you need to know when comparing assisted living to specialized memory care communities.

More About Dementia

When your loved one receives a diagnosis of dementia, you can feel quite isolated. However, you are not alone, and neither is your loved one. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million adults are currently living with the disease. And these 6 million do not include individuals living with other types of dementia.

All types of dementia present challenges for the person living with the condition and for the family members who love them. One major challenge with dementia is its unpredictability. Dementia is a progressive condition, meaning that day-to-day difficulties will constantly shift, making it hard for family members to help out. Once a loved one thinks they’ve reached a “new normal,” things shift again. 

The stress on everyone is persistent, and the progressive nature of the condition means that future planning is especially crucial. You don’t want safety to become an issue overnight, for example. Instead, you want to have steps in place that will keep your loved one safe before any type of crisis situation happens. 

Where to Start

This is where communities that provide memory care come in.

Specialized memory care communities can provide comforting reassurance for family members, along with personalized assistance that keeps parents or loved ones healthy and independent. It’s never too early—or too late—to begin researching memory care options in your area. In fact, an early transition to memory care can decrease the risk of transition trauma and make the overall experience much more therapeutic for your loved one.


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What Are the Benefits of Memory Care Communities?

If you’re like most people who are new to the senior living scene, you might assume that all communities offer dementia assistance. Although it’s true that seniors with dementia might be represented in assisted living and even independent living, the best decision is to make sure the community you choose specializes in and provides memory care.

Memory care communities are specialized to provide the best environment, care, and interactions for those living with dementia. Although assisted living is an excellent solution for residents who need some assistance with daily activities, memory care increases the quality of care by giving residents the following:

  • An environment engineered for their success
  • Specially trained staff members
  • Daily activities designed to provide a rhythm to the day

Specialized Environment

Memory care communities are designed to ensure resident safety while still giving easy access to the outdoors and community spaces. Because wandering—or walking without a purpose or destination—is a common side effect of dementia, memory care communities have open spaces where residents can stroll, but they also have secured entrances to ensure residents aren’t wandering away without supervision. 

Beyond safety, the most important aspect of memory care communities is that they’re designed to feel just like home. It’s common to see residents interacting in the shared living spaces, including the activity room or family-style dining room. Hallways are well lit to decrease the risk of falling, but they steer clear of clinical, hospital-type lighting to make sure everything feels comfortable. And like home, residents also enjoy easy access to outdoor areas like patios and courtyards, but safely.

Specially Trained Staff Members

Living in a community that offers memory care also provides access to specialized caregivers.

Caregivers and other team members are specially trained on the dementia process and how to create personalized interventions to build trust as well as meaningful moments. 

This extra training means residents in memory care communities not only get the best practices and techniques, but they also benefit from a warm, caring staff who balance medical needs with good old fashioned human connection. It also means family members can freely talk with caregivers about their concerns or questions, and team members can readily answer and provide guidance about how to make their next visit better.

Engaging Activities

We’ve saved the most important part for last. Perhaps the most important part of living in a memory care community is the attention to engagement. Exceptional memory care communities feature a robust calendar of events, activities, and trips that are designed to increase overall wellness—and having some well-deserved fun.

Seniors with dementia who live at home alone or with a caregiver are at an increased risk of isolation. Not having that element of engaging social support can lead to a variety of health concerns, including more rapid cognitive decline. Memory care communities are hubs of activity, making connecting with staff members or a fellow resident as easy as stepping out into the hallway or attending the next social event.

Engaging activities support healthy socialization as well as contribute to wellness. Memory care communities offer a variety of options for residents to enjoy, from large group activities to smaller group interactions and even one-on-one visits. When it comes to activities, residents have the option to come and go as they please, and staff members are always there to invite and escort them to the next event.

Finally, in between group activities, residents living in memory care communities enjoy the opportunity to take part in activities that match their daily routine or rhythm. It’s not unusual to see a resident chatting with a caregiver while folding towels in the living room or a resident helping to set the table. These daily rhythm tasks help to maintain healthy sleep patterns, decrease anxiety caused by confusion, and increase feelings of belonging.

Is Memory Care Right for Your Loved One?

If your loved one has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, a memory care community can be a healthy and positive living solution that ensures safety, wellness, and engagement. 

Not sure how to start your search for the best memory care community near you? Here are a few questions to consider when determining if memory care is a good option for your loved one:

  • Is the community in a convenient location for family visits?
  • Do staff members create a customized personal care plan with interventions based on residents’ preferences and interests?
  • Are there regular family events, including support groups?
  • Are staff members specially trained on best practices for dementia care?
  • Is the activity calendar diverse? Are events offered seven days per week, throughout the day and evening?

Prepare as much as you can, and learn more about how to plan for your loved one’s current and future needs by reading our Where to Start guide.

Where to Start

This post was originally published in February 2021 and updated in February 2023.

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