Complete Guide to Memory Care

COVID-19 isn’t the only pandemic we face today. More silent, but no less damaging, dementia currently affects 50 million people worldwide, a number that is projected to triple by 2050.

As diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia progress, families are forced to make decisions about their loved one’s long-term care. While some individuals may do well aging in place with the help of full-time caregivers, others need the around-the-clock supervision and security that memory care facilities offer. Making the choice to move your family member to a residential facility is difficult, but it may also be the safest and healthiest option for your loved one.

Memory Care

What Is Memory Care?

Memory care refers to specialized senior care dedicated solely to patients with memory disorders and diseases, typically dementia. Patients in memory care have a much lower staff-to-resident ratio than those in other types of senior housing, and they enjoy unique memory-boosting activities and therapies meant to stimulate different cognitive abilities. Monitored 24/7, memory care units keep residents safe and secure by ensuring any entrances and exits remain locked at all times.

Memory care units may stand alone or serve as part of an existing nursing home or assisted living community. They primarily house individuals in the middle or late stages of their disease. Most of these centers only employ staff who have completed ample training specific to working with dementia patients, so they can respond appropriately to common symptoms of the disease, such as aggression, agitation, repetition, and wandering.

Many units are often designed in the shape of a loop with distinctive landmarks and labels, making it easier for your loved ones to find their way back if they’ve been wandering. Some homes feature enclosed courtyards, which allow residents to spend time outside without the fear of getting lost while other facilities use themed wings and stations meant to help trigger residents’ memories.

Memory Care vs. Nursing Homes

Memory Care Nursing Homes Assisted Living
Average Monthly Cost (U.S.) $4,000 – $9,000 $7,800 – $8,800 (shared) (private) $4,300
Environment Buildings designed in ways that reduce confusion Hospital-like setup Apartment-style setup
Assistance with Daily Activities (ADL) Significant assistance with daily activities, such as eating, dressing, bathing Significant assistance with daily activities Individuals still have some independence but need help with a few daily activities
  • 24/7 supervision
  • Locked entry and exit doors at all times
  • Security cameras in common areas and some places use sensors to track residents
  • 24/7 supervision
  • Secure entrances and exits
  • Usually have security cameras in common areas
  • Many facilities have security stations and cameras. Some have security guards.
  • Residents may come and go as they please.
  • Staff trained in responding to dementia-related behavior disorders
  • Lower staff-to-resident ratios
  • Usually skilled nursing
  • Skilled nursing staff
  • Higher staff-to-resident ratio
  • Higher staff-to-resident ratio
  • Less frequent check-ins
Residents Only patients diagnosed with memory diseases, usually only middle and late stages Individuals who need intermediate to major assistance Individuals who need mild to intermediate assistance

Put Plans in Place Early: If your loved one is still in the early stages of their disease, take time now to have important discussions about future care and their legal, financial, and end-of-life wishes. This way, both you and your loved one can feel confident you will follow their wishes as time goes on.

How Much Does Memory Care Cost?

Paying for Memory Care

Memory care is expensive. There’s no doubt about it. Fortunately, there are a variety of means in which you might find the funds to cover the cost of your loved one’s stay. Keep reading to learn more about each method.

For more information about other state and federal benefits, visit the National Council on Aging’s website and select Benefits Check-Up.

When Should You Put Someone in Memory Care?

Five Signs It’s Time to Move From Assisted Living to Memory Care

Assisted living is a wonderful option for seniors who need a bit of extra help yet remain mostly independent. It may even work well for your loved one through the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia. However, as time goes on, your family member will start to exhibit signs that indicate the progression of their disease, and it will become more difficult for them to function without more significant help. Of course, if your loved one is already in assisted living, it may be challenging to discern when it’s the appropriate time to move them to memory care. Here are five signs to look for that indicate it may be time to move to an area with more intensive care.

1. Safety concerns

For memory patients, safety issues often arise with everyday tasks or situations that you and I wouldn’t give a second thought. For example, your loved one might start to struggle with medication management and accidentally take their morning medications two or three times. If their assisted living residence includes a kitchen, they might forget to turn burners off or not remember that substances like aluminum foil start a fire if put in the microwave. In other cases, you might notice that they have cuts, scrapes, bruises, or even more severe injuries that they don’t remember getting. We all have incidents like these every now and then, but when your loved one’s safety is repeatedly put into question, it might be time to search for a memory care facility.

2. Changes in mood/behavior

If your loved one has become increasingly anxious, agitated, and/or prone to aggressive or violent behaviors, this is a surefire sign that it might be time for memory care. Keep in mind that aggressive doesn’t always mean physical. In addition to kicking, hitting, and biting, verbal abuse, manipulation, and threats are all common among progressing memory diseases.

3. Severe disorientation

Has your family member started to wander more frequently? When they wander, do they end up very disoriented and/or in dangerous situations, such as the middle of a busy intersection or highway? If so, this indicates they should be living somewhere with more supervision where they can wander safely inside the facility.

4. Unhealthy living environment

When an assisted living residence that was once well kept is overrun with dirty laundry, trash, and the scent of soiled kitty litter, that’s a clear indication something is wrong. Alternatively, it may be less obvious, such as a mini-fridge full of expired food, a newly developed hoarding habit, or simply an extreme level of disorganization. Healthy living conditions are essential for your loved one’s well-being. When these start to deteriorate with an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient, it’s likely time for memory care.

5. A decline in personal hygiene

Forgetting daily hygiene routines can have a negative impact on your loved one’s physical and mental health. They may not remember what hygiene steps they missed, but they’ll probably recognize that some things are off, especially if they used to be rather well-groomed and put together. The most obvious and concerning hygiene issue is more serious than one or two missed showers or going without deodorant.

If your loved one is afflicted with frequent incontinence and has trouble cleaning themselves afterward, this poses a serious health risk. Not only might they feel embarrassed or ashamed, but they will also smell, and/or likely develop skin problems, urinary tract infections, or worse. If your loved one frequently fails to meet basic hygiene standards or commonly experiences Incontinence, memory care is probably the best next step.

Ask for References: As you and your loved one explore memory care facilities, ask each location you’re in for references. Ideally, these would be families of long-time residents who can give you a clearer picture of the pros and cons of their facility.

Transitioning a Loved One Into Memory Care

Making the transition into memory care can be challenging for residents as well as their families. Luckily, experts have determined a number of steps and strategies you can take to help make the transition easier for both you and your loved one. Read on for details about six of these tactics.


Making the choice to move a loved one to memory care can be one of the more difficult decisions of our adult lives. Even so, providing them with a secure facility and expertly trained staff who know how to effectively respond to behaviors common to those with memory disorders may also be one of the best choices we can make for their well-being. Memory care may come with a hefty price tag, but with a range of funding methods available, setting aside a few hours, or days, to consider whether memory care is the most loving choice we can make for our dementia-afflicted loved one is certainly time well spent.

Written By
Amie Clark

Amie has been writing about senior care products and services for the last decade. She is particularly passionate about new technologies that help improve the quality of life for seniors and their families. Seeing her parents and grandparents age made Amie ask herself, “Would this be good enough for my loved ones?” In her spare time, Amie enjoys outdoor adventures and spontaneous road trips. Learn more about Amie here

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