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When To Move From Assisted Living To Memory Care

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If your senior parent or loved one is in their own home or an assisted living facility but has begun experiencing memory impairments associated with dementia, you might assume a nursing home is the next step.

Not necessarily! They will likely do better in a memory care unit.

Why and when should a senior move to a memory care community from assisted living?

Here are some signs a senior needs to leave assisted living and receive memory care services:

  • Differences in eating habits
  • Reduced sociability 
  • Decreased hygiene
  • Mood changes
  • Increase in forgetfulness
  • Frequently getting lost

In this article, we’ll discuss further how memory care communities and assisted living differ, when older adults may need one or another, and how often you should visit dementia patients who are in a memory care facility. Keep reading for lots of great info. 

What Is The Difference Between Memory Care And Assisted Living?

First, let’s talk a bit about the differences between memory care facilities and assisted living. Some people confuse the two services, assuming they’re the same, but they vary in critical ways.

Here’s what you need to know.

Confused senior woman looking at a photo album with her caregiver

What Is Assisted Living?

Assisted living residences or communities are designed for seniors who can no longer care for themselves in an independent living environment, such as in their own homes.

Older people who require assisted living may struggle with certain activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing themselves, maintaining hygiene, or medication management.

For the most part, they’re still capable of getting around and can live semi-independently. 

They don’t require full-time care like someone in a nursing home but still require help, nevertheless. 

Assisted living communities may categorize residents based on the level of care required. 

A senior in an assisted living community will live in a room or apartment. The residence will have common areas for socializing and daily activities and programs. 

The assisted living community will provide meals and housekeeping services, help a senior manage their medications, and assist with personal care.

Seniors in the community will regularly go on field trips and enjoy recreational and social activities with others. 

What Is Memory Care? 

Memory care is a type of long-term care for those with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or some other type of cognitive disorder. 

A senior in an assisted living community usually does not have Alzheimer’s or dementia, while a senior in memory care does.

Otherwise, the same level of care that a senior would receive at an assisted living community is available as part of memory care, however the number of attending staff is higher. This means the staff to patient ratio is smaller.

A recent article in Forbes reported that, “Typically, memory care has a smaller staff-to-patient ratio because a person with dementia has greater care needs. Staff members often have additional training in dementia care as well, though it’s important to ask.

So, people who live in memory care centers receive assistance with basic tasks like dressing or bathing, along with memory support. They’ll have meals provided to them three times a day. They will have their own room or apartment and can spend time sociably with others in the community. 

What Are The Signs That A Person Needs To Be In Memory Care?

Is memory care the best option for the senior in your life? To help you make that difficult decision, let’s go over the signs that it may be the right time to consider memory care, which we discussed in the intro.

Less Ability To Participate In Activities

Does the senior in your life still have an interest in their hobbies and activities yet isn’t engaging in them nearly as much anymore?

You should discuss with your loved one whether they could be depressed. That should involve an appointment with their primary care physician and possibly a mental health professional. 

If you can rule out depression but your loved one still doesn’t want to participate in activities, it could be they’re in the early stages of dementia and have forgotten about the activities they used to enjoy. This could make them a good candidate for memory care.

Differences In Eating Habits

Has your senior parent or loved one begun eating a lot less when they would never miss a meal before?

Again, this warrants a checkup with their primary care physician to rule out a medical condition that could cause them to lose weight or not want to eat. You should also discuss the senior’s medication(s) with their doctor, as some prescriptions can cause a lack of appetite.

Once you’re sure it’s none of those causes, it’s time to consider an evaluation for cognitive impairment. Perhaps the senior in your life can no longer remember how to prepare meals for themselves or are forgetting to eat, so that’s why they’re not eating as much.

If they receive an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis, exploring memory care options is the right choice.

Reduced Sociability 

The confusion that conditions like dementia can cause may sometimes rob even the most social butterflies of their tendencies. 

If your senior parent or loved one has begun shutting themselves in, and especially if they’re experiencing that along with the other signs in this section, you might want to begin looking into memory care. 

Decreased Hygiene

Does the senior in your life seem to skip a lot of basic hygiene when they would never do so before?

Perhaps their hair looks unkempt, they have bad breath because they’re not brushing their teeth, or they have body odor since they’re not showering or bathing.

It’s worth a discussion about what may have changed (maybe they need extra help with hygiene now), but if that doesn’t help, perhaps your senior needs memory care. 

Mood Changes

Does the senior in your life flip moods seemingly on a dime? Vascular dementia can cause mood changes. A senior may also have issues with memory, judgment, planning, and reasoning. The senior can become suddenly agitated and depressed. 

Increase In Forgetfulness 

It’s normal to have times where you’re forgetful, especially if you had a rough night’s sleep or there’s a lot on your mind. We all have those days. 

However, if your senior parent or loved one has frequent memory loss, and if it goes on for far longer than one day, that’s worth paying attention to. 

It could be that the memory problems stem from dementia or Alzheimer’s, which means memory care might be the better option. 

Frequently Getting Lost 

When your senior parent or loved one goes out alone or with someone else, how often do they end up having trouble finding their way home? This, too, indicates that you should look into memory care.

How Do You Transition A Loved One To Memory Care?

You’ve decided that memory care could be the right answer for the senior in your life. How do you talk to them to ease the transition into this life change? Here’s what we recommend. 

Have The Conversation Early

A senior struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s can already feel a loss of control. Although moving them to memory care is another choice that’s out of their hands, that doesn’t mean you should move your senior to a facility without discussing it first. 

Once you begin noticing signs that the senior in your life may need a higher level of care, it’s time to have the conversation.

Don’t tell them they’re going to memory care, but instead, ask if your senior feels like they’re struggling with their day-to-day life.

They may tell you that yes, they are, or their pride could get in the way, and they might say no, they’re doing just fine. Either way, bring up memory care and the benefits it can provide. 

Most seniors will probably balk at the idea of giving up so much independence, even if they’re having a hard time maintaining it. 

While they may never be 100 percent on board with memory care, if you can make it seem like it’s their idea or at least help them maintain a modicum of control, they might be more agreeable to the idea. 

Set Up Their Room With Personal Items

Comfort is a big component of everyday life for anyone. To make a senior’s memory care room or apartment feel a little more familiar and comfortable, bring personal items and help them decorate the space.

Keep in mind you’re not trying to recreate the senior’s home to the letter, as that can make them more depressed than anything else. You’re just trying to create that cozy, familiar vibe in a new environment. 

Know When To Visit

Visiting your senior in memory care is important, and not only for you, but your other siblings, the senior’s spouse or partner, other family members, and friends. 

However, you should be strategic about when you visit.

For instance, avoid visiting in the evening. Depending on the stage of their disease, a senior with dementia or Alzheimer’s often will have more severe symptoms late in the day due to sundown syndrome. 

Sundown syndrome usually begins in the evening but can occur late in the afternoon. Also known as sundowning, sundown syndrome can cause a person with dementia to become more aggressive, anxious, confused, and prone to wandering. 

Your senior parent or loved one may also be very much aware that you’re going home to relax but not bringing them with you, which can worsen their mood.  

Visit earlier in the day instead. At least then you can mention having to go back to work, which should make parting easier for both of you. 

Be Patient 

In a perfect world, a senior would adjust to living in memory care in a couple of days, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Ideally, it’ll take anywhere from one to six weeks for the person to adjust to the change, but possibly longer.

Have patience. The early days will be the hardest, but as everyone adapts, it will get progressively easier.

How Often Should You Visit Someone In Memory Care?

Let’s wrap up by talking more about visitation.

You already know to avoid seeing a senior in memory care in the evening if you can help it, but what about visiting frequency? How often can you go? How often should you go?

If you have the time, try to visit your senior parent or loved one three times a week. You don’t have to stay long for each visit, only 20 to 30 minutes. 

Although you’re going to feel guilty at first, know that a senior in the advanced throes of dementia doesn’t know if you stayed for three minutes or three hours. 

What Is The Average Cost Of Memory Care In The US?

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be a challenging and emotional experience, and it’s important to consider the financial aspect as well.

The monthly cost of caring for a patient with dementia can vary depending on several factors, such as the level of care needed and the location of the care facility.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, as of 2023, the average monthly cost for a private room in a nursing home is more than $9,600 and a semi-private room is more than $8,400 per month.

Costs can quickly add up and put a financial strain on families, but it’s important to remember that there are often resources and support available to help alleviate some of the burden.


Moving a senior from assisted living to memory care isn’t an easy decision, but if they’re experiencing worsening Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms, it’s sometimes the only choice. 

We hope this guide helps you make this transition smoothly!

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