When Is the Right Time to Transition from Assisted Living to Memory Care?

Two senior women with coffee mugs sitting at a table holding hands.

If your senior loved one lives in an assisted living community and is experiencing memory impairments, it can be difficult to choose the best care option to help them be happy and healthy. One option is memory care, but what exactly is the difference between memory care and assisted living? 

Let’s dig into the differences between memory care and assisted living, strategies to understand which care type is best for your senior loved one, and ways you can help them have a successful transition into a memory care community.

Memory Care vs. Assisted Living: What’s the Difference?

Not all senior living communities are the same. They may have similarities, but each lifestyle option offers different services. This is especially true for assisted living and memory care.

Memory care and assisted living both provide residents with help during meals, medication management as needed, and hands-on assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). ADLs are the basic activities people engage in on a daily basis such as eating, bathing, grooming, and toileting. IADLs are more complex activities that require planning and organization such as cooking, housework, and managing finances and medications.

Assisted Living

Assisted living is a broad senior lifestyle category that covers many different levels of care, depending on the requirements of each individual resident. Seniors in assisted living enjoy a certain level of independence while receiving hands-on care to meet their unique needs.

This type of lifestyle is ideal for seniors who may need assistance with eating, bathing, dressing, or using the restroom, but don’t require intensive nursing or medical care. It’s also important to note that residents in assisted living are generally able to come and go as they please—a situation that is a safety concern for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, who are prone to wandering.

Memory Care

If your loved one’s memory impairments are continuing to worsen and they need additional assistance, you may be considering a memory care community that provides specialized care to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. These communities also provide reassurance for family members that their loved one is receiving personalized care, keeping them as healthy and independent as possible.

Memory care communities provide a routine based on your loved one’s preferences, around-the-clock supervised care, specially trained staff members, memory-enhancing activities, and more. Because wandering is a common side effect of dementia, memory care communities are specially designed with extra safety and security measures to keep residents on-site while still providing access to community spaces and open areas where they can stroll.

These communities are staffed with team members who are accustomed to providing the type of care necessary for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Team members are trained on the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia, learning how to develop personalized interventions and build meaningful moments with residents. This means not only is your loved one receiving the best care possible, but they’re also living in a community with warm, caring staff members.

Part of living well with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is sticking to a daily routine, and team members at memory care communities should honor the routines of each resident—for instance, are they an early riser or do they prefer to sleep in? Adhering to a routine minimizes stress, which lessens the risk of additional cognitive complications.

Perhaps the most important part of memory care communities is the attention paid to crafting engaging activities, events, and trips. These programs are designed to improve resident wellness as well as provide some well-deserved fun.

How Do I Know It’s Time to Consider Memory Care for a Senior Loved One?

It can be challenging to decide between assisted living and memory care, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer or approach. Remember that the team members at your loved one’s assisted living community can provide guidance and support to you and your senior loved one. If you have any questions, these team members are valuable resources for insight into your loved one’s unique situation.

Some signs that it may be the right time for memory care include:

  • Your loved one’s assisted living community is recommending memory care.
  • Your loved one is experiencing disorientation and confusion that may compromise their physical safety.
  • Your loved one’s cognitive needs could be better met in a memory care community, which is accustomed to providing care for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
  • Your loved one is experiencing declines in physical health.


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Tips for Transitioning to a Memory Care Community

Moving to a new home can be difficult for anyone because it’s a disruption of daily life, which can lead to stress. This is especially true for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. For those with cognitive decline, a predictable routine helps is essential for keeping stress minimized; transitioning to a new environment temporarily disrupts this routine. 

To help your loved one successfully transition to memory care while minimizing stress, we recommend:

1. Considering Your Loved One’s Point of View

When a physical environment changes, even if the change is beneficial, it can cause one to feel physically overstimulated, stressed, or depleted. Keep these feelings in mind throughout the transition, and be sensitive to your loved one’s experience and perspective. 

2. Remembering That Disruptions May Worsen Cognitive Symptoms

The transition to memory care could temporarily worsen symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia due to the disruption in their physical environment. Remember that this transition is beneficial for your loved one, and they’re moving into an environment ideal for providing support and care to those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The potential short-term setback is often worth the long-term gain.

3. Focusing on the Positives

Memory care communities provide engaging activities that contribute to wellness. They provide a variety of options from small to large group activities and one-on-one interactions. Additionally, memory care communities offer residents the opportunity to participate in activities that align with their natural daily rhythm and routine.

4. Explaining What to Expect

Explain to your loved one what to expect in a memory care community. For example, let them know and remind them as necessary that they’ll meet with a counselor upon arrival and then go to their apartment. It can also help to talk about the activities they'll participate in as well as the delicious food options available in the dining room. 

5. Making Your Loved One’s Environment Familiar

Making your loved one’s apartment as familiar as possible can engage positive memories and feelings. Bring and display family photos, a favorite stuffed animal, a blanket, or other items that help your loved one feel comforted. Arranging your loved one’s new apartment with these items can provide a sense of familiarity, which may reduce stress and behavioral issues.

We’re Here When and Where You Need Us

You have the power to improve your loved one’s quality of life and advocate on their behalf. To navigate this important role, explore our resource, A Caregiver’s Guide to Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care.

Discover everyday care tips to support a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

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