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Older Adults: Opting Between Memory & Assisted Living

Determining that a senior parent or loved one needs more help than you can provide is no easy task. The next gargantuan task on your to-do list is deciding between a memory care community and assisted living. How do the two differ?

Memory care is designed for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and offers specialized care, whereas assisted living does not have that same specific level of care.

With both living arrangements, older adults join communities and have their own private room or small private apartments for maintaining some independence.

In this guide, we’ll further explore the differences between assisted living and memory care communities and how each addresses the individual’s unique needs and care plans.

We’ll also delve into costs, so whether you’re contemplating memory care or assisted living as the next step for the senior in your life, you’ll be ready.

How Does Memory Care Differ From Assisted Living?

As we illustrated in the paragraphs above, memory care and assisted living share a lot in common. They offer similar living options and a community element.

However, since memory care services are designed for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients while assisted living isn’t, the two diverge in interesting ways. Let’s take a look.

Often More Sensory

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are more than just memory impairment diseases. In fact, they affect all the senses.

So, when designing special care units for memory care residents, the staff might install sensory additions, like motion-sensor lights, to aid a senior in their day-to-day lives.

Is A More Secure Environment

The confusion of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can be scary and can make a senior want to get away, whether by foot or by car.

The staff working in a memory care facility are ready for this and will have security measures in place.

The doors may feature alarms or the building could have a high-tech security system with cameras to prevent patients from wandering away.

In addition, there is often a higher staff-to-resident ratio in a memory care facility (when choosing the right facility, this is a hallmark to look for!).

This means there are more health professionals available to oversee safety concerns and address specific needs.

Provides Specialized Nutrition

Dementia can make a senior’s relationship with food difficult. Seniors can forget to eat or become picky about consuming certain foods as their cognitive decline worsens.

While an assisted living community will provide all three meals a day for its residents, you don’t often see the specialized kinds of diets and nutrition that a memory care facility will offer.

Through these diets, seniors that reside in a memory care facility can consume the required number of calories in a way that works for them.

Introduces More Helpful Activities

Assisted living and memory care both offer a variety of daily activities and projects for residents, but the types of activities vary.

For example, in a memory care program, while there will be social activities, the overall goal of the different options is a cognitive benefit.

From arts and crafts to music therapy, seniors in memory care can engage in activities that reduce confusion, provide a high quality of life, and possibly may even improve cognition.

Read our comprehensive article, Signs Its Time For Memory Care.

What Is The Difference Between Memory Care And Dementia Care?

For family members with Alzheimer’s or dementia, memory care isn’t their only option. You might also choose to enroll them in dementia care.

How exactly is dementia care different from memory care?

One is designed for earlier stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia and the other is for later, more advanced stages.

It can be difficult to know when to move a loved one into memory care and how to talk to them about it.

The fact is, if the senior in your life was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, putting them in a memory care facility sooner rather than later can be beneficial, unless they were initially diagnosed with advanced dementia.

The staff at a memory care facility receive training to deal with Alzheimer’s patients and the struggles, mood changes, aggression, and other mental and physical behavioral changes they can experience.

They work with an early dementia patient each day to ensure the person meets their nutritional, hygienic, and emotional needs and remembers to take their medications.

Intervening with memory care early enough into a senior’s dementia diagnosis might prevent them from having to enter dementia care entirely or might reduce their reliance on it.

In other instances, even if a senior did receive memory care, as their dementia or Alzheimer’s progresses and their cognitive skills decline, they may still need dementia care.

Dementia care is best for advanced Alzheimer’s. The specialist staff understand how unpredictably a senior’s day-to-day life can change in the later throes of dementia.

Their everyday care will focus on lessening symptom severity and improving their quality of life.

The dementia patient may stay in dementia care for the rest of their lives or eventually move to hospice.

While memory care affords fewer freedoms than a senior living at home, patients in memory care still have a degree of independent living. That lessens significantly with dementia care.

During advanced Alzheimer’s, patients may struggle to eat, dress themselves, exercise, and even to get around their living space. They may need around-the-clock attention, which can they receive through the greater level of care provided by a dementia care program.

The Cost Of Memory Care Vs. Assisted Living

Let’s go back to memory care vs. assisted living for a moment and talk further about one major consideration: expenses. Different states have different costs for each.

TIP: Genworth has a cost of care calculator to help you estimate charges in your particular area.

Memory Care Costs

Genworth breaks down the cost of memory care by state:

  • Alabama: $4,410
  • Alaska: $4,817
  • Arizona: $5,448
  • Arkansas: $5,053
  • California: $5,419
  • Colorado: $5,925
  • Connecticut: $7,250
  • Delaware: $5,972
  • District of Columbia: $11,490
  • Florida: $4,650
  • Georgia: $3,395
  • Hawaii: $8,100
  • Idaho: $4,336
  • Illinois: $5,900
  • Indiana: $5,300
  • Iowa: $5,669
  • Kansas: $6,000
  • Kentucky: $4,513
  • Louisiana: $4,710
  • Maine: $7,695
  • Maryland: $6,285
  • Massachusetts: $7,695
  • Michigan: $5,213
  • Minnesota: $6,418
  • Mississippi: $4,452
  • Missouri: $5,800
  • Montana: $6,105
  • Nebraska: $5,935
  • Nevada: NA
  • New Hampshire: $6,950
  • New Jersey: $7,710
  • New Mexico: $4,600
  • New York: $6,895
  • North Carolina: $5,490
  • North Dakota: $5,745
  • Ohio: $5,315
  • Oklahoma: NA
  • Oregon: $6,275
  • Pennsylvania: $5,635
  • Rhode Island: $5,925
  • South Carolina: $4,415
  • South Dakota: $6,083
  • Tennessee: $4,417
  • Texas: NA
  • Utah: $4,220
  • Vermont: $8,400
  • Virginia: $5,555
  • Washington: $6,175
  • West Virginia: $5,460
  • Wisconsin: $5,850
  • Wyoming: NA

Source: Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey Data from the National Senior Living Cost Index

Read our article, How To Pay For Memory Care.

Assisted Living Costs

Per Genworth, let’s also go over the monthly costs of assisted living by state.

  • Alabama: $3,503
  • Alaska: $6,830
  • Arizona: $4,000
  • Arkansas: $3,760
  • California: $5,250
  • Colorado: $4,750
  • Connecticut: $5,129
  • Delaware: $5,995
  • District of Columbia: $6,978
  • Florida: $4,000
  • Georgia: $3,535
  • Hawaii: $5,375
  • Idaho: $3,838
  • Illinois: $4,488
  • Indiana: $4,283
  • Iowa: $4,367
  • Kansas: $4,580
  • Kentucky: $3,448
  • Louisiana: $3,748
  • Maine: $5,865
  • Maryland: $4,900
  • Massachusetts: $6,500
  • Michigan: $4,250
  • Minnesota: $4,508
  • Mississippi: $3,500
  • Missouri: $3,000
  • Montana: $4,450
  • Nebraska: $4,076
  • Nevada: $3,750
  • New Hampshire: $6,053
  • New Jersey: $6,495
  • New Mexico: $4,498
  • New York: $4,580
  • North Carolina: $4,010
  • North Dakota: $3,391
  • Ohio: $4,635
  • Oklahoma: $3,855
  • Oregon: $5,045
  • Pennsylvania: $4,100
  • Rhode Island: $6,826
  • South Carolina: $ 3,612
  • South Dakota: $3,350
  • Tennessee: $4,105
  • Texas: $3,998
  • Utah: $3,500
  • Vermont: $5,250
  • Virginia: $5,250
  • Washington: $6,000
  • West Virginia: $4,160
  • Wisconsin: $4,600
  • Wyoming: $4,169

Source: Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey Data from the National Senior Living Cost Index

Why Does Memory Care Cost So Much?

If you compare the costs per month of assisted living versus memory care, you’ll see that the latter is a lot more expensive (at least for the states that have data available). Why is that? Let’s go over the reasons.

Personal Assistance Throughout The Day

Memory care allows seniors their independence as they can, but you can also request that your loved one have personal assistance during specific activities of daily living, like bathing or dressing, as well as during mealtime.

Wellness Monitoring

Memory care units include regular wellness monitoring to check the physical, cognitive, and mental health of the dementia patient and track their progress and condition over time.

Full-Time Staff

The staff members at a memory care facility are always on-hand around the clock to care for patients whether something happens in the middle of the night, on a weekday, a holiday, or a weekend.

Personal Service Plan Monitoring

A licensed nurse at the memory care facility will create a personal service plan for each resident and then carry out that plan. They also monitor the patient to see if anything on the care plan needs to be adjusted.

Housekeeping

Some people in a memory care unit may be able to continue with housekeeping in their room, while others may not. Having housekeeping service available reduces the need for a resident to do it themselves.

Memory care staff will also take care of linens, laundry, disinfecting, and other housekeeping tasks for the resident.

Utilities

Further, seniors needn’t stress about utilities in their companion suite. The staff at the memory care facility will remove trash, clean sewers, and maintain water, electric, and gas for the resident.

You will have to decide if memory care is financially feasible, as Medicare often doesn’t cover costs. If anything, Medicare might pay for limited care such as 100 days in the facility.

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