How to Choose A Senior Living Community

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

Whether you are exploring senior living options for yourself or a family member, weighing assisted living vs. memory care can be difficult. However, knowing the difference between these two types of communities can help you decide which is right for you.

What Is Assisted Living?

An assisted living community is a residential community where seniors get assistance throughout the day from well-trained staff but still live somewhat independently. Assisted living residents usually need help with one or more activities of daily living, like bathing or dressing.

What Is Memory Care?

Memory care is a specialized type of senior living designed to meet the specific needs of someone who has varying levels of memory loss, as well as the behaviors that are associated with it, typically caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

What Are the Similarities?

Though assisted living and memory care communities are designed for two different types of residents, the two share similarities.

Assistance with ADLs

In both types of communities, staff are available around the clock to help residents with activities of daily living (ADLs), although residents are encouraged to be as independent as possible.

ADLs is a term used to refer to a person’s daily self-care activities. An individual’s ability or inability to perform ADLs is often used as a measurement of their functional status. Basic ADLs include (but are not limited to):

  • Dressing
  • Grooming, including such things as combing/brushing/styling hair, nail care and shaving
  • Bathing and showering
  • Personal hygiene, including such activities as washing hands and oral care (brushing and flossing or denture care)
  • Toilet hygiene, including getting to the toilet, cleaning oneself afterward and getting back up
  • Functional mobility, including assistance with actions such as walking, getting in and out of the bed or a chair, transferring to and from a wheelchair to another
  • location, and any other activities that move a person from one location to another
  • Eating assistance

Services to Assist with IDALs
Assisted living and memory care communities also assist with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), activities that are not necessary for fundamental functioning but enable a person to live independently. The IADLs that communities often provide assistance with include:

  • Housekeeping and laundry
  • Meal preparation
  • Medication management
  • Using the telephone
  • Pet care (if pets are allowed in the community)

What Are the Differences?

It is important to remember that memory care communities are designed to manage the specific issues a person diagnosed with dementia faces. With this in mind, there are five key differences between assisted living and memory care communities. Keep reading to learn more.

1. Elopement Prevention
Dementia residents are prone to wander, making elopement prevention important. In fact, given the opportunity, some people will walk out the door and keep walking. Entrances and exits to memory care communities are secured, either manned by a staff member or activated through a keypad. Though assisted living communities are also outfitted with 24-hour security monitoring, staff are less concerned with elopement prevention.

2. Protection and Entertainment When Wandering
Wandering is an issue that memory care communities must deal with frequently. Many communities have incorporated built-in sensors to track resident movement. Some communities provide secure outdoor courtyards and gardens with walking paths. Others provide multi-sensory rooms or aquariums. Communities take these measures to help residents feel calm, comforted and relaxed.

In an assisted living community, staff provide residents with more latitude. They are encouraged to move independently. They are also encouraged to attend a wide range of events and participate in activities if they so choose.

3. Medication Management
At memory care communities, medication management is provided so that prescriptions are properly administered. Staff are licensed to administer medications at the correct times and at the proper dosages, with or without food as required.

Comparatively, assisted living communities often offer medication management services as an additional service residents can add on. This allows residents to customize their senior living experience and maintain their independence.

4. Therapies to Reduce Anxiety
People with dementia often express their anxiety or confusion in a way that may be verbally or physically aggressive. To reduce agitation, memory care communities provide a variety of therapies. From pet therapy to reminiscence therapy to music and art appreciation, these activities help residents to reminisce, relax and enjoy themselves. This, in turn, decreases agitation.

Though assisted living communities may provide residents with innovative programs designed to lessen depression or anxiety, these therapies are often less structured than what would be found in a memory care community.

5. Specially Trained Staff
Staff members at memory care communities are expertly trained to deal with the needs of residents who have dementia and other memory loss-related needs. This training may include:

  • The process of aging, special needs and physical limitations of adults with memory loss and dementia
  • Holistic, person-centered approaches to dementia care
  • Recognition of the effects of common medications used to treat dementia symptoms
  • How medication affects the behavior of residents with dementia
  • Supervision and security of residents with dementia
  • Recognition of symptoms that may create or worsen dementia behaviors
  • Positive therapeutic interventions and activities
  • The appropriate response to typical issues such as aggression, wandering and inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Though assisted living staff are also trained to support older adults, they will have more generalized expertise.

How To Choose Between Assisted Living Vs. Memory Care

Finding a senior living community that provides appropriate support can be challenging. However, as a general rule, if you’re largely independent but want or need some help with daily activities as well as a supportive, engaging community, assisted living is likely a good option for you. If you or a family member have more in-depth support needs, such as needing care for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you should consider memory care instead. If you are considering a senior living community, please take one of our five minute quizs to learn more about each care level and your available options.