Memory Care vs. Assisted Living

Guide to Finding the Right Memory Care Services

Everyone is affected by Alzheimers disease. You either have an older family member suffering from it or a friend of yours does. The bad news is that we will know more people with Alzheimer’s than ever before. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that in six years, there will be an increase in Alzheimer’s cases by 27%. The good news is that there are services out there that can help.


In this article, I’m going to lay out the differences between Assisted Living and Memory Care. Dementia hits close to home for me as my grandmother was diagnosed with it back in 2013. It’s hard watching a loved family member lose their identity through such a debilitating disease. We are blessed to have my grandfather around who is able to take care of her. If he was not around, we likely would be reading guides just like this one.


Disclaimer: This guide is meant to educate readers on the various services provided by Senior Living and Skilled Nursing Facilities. It is not meant to provide care direction or to replace the diagnosis/ care plan given by a medical professional.


So Your Senior Has Alzheimer’s or Dementia, Now What?


The best gameplan for care management is to begin researching facilities after the initial diagnosis. Begin touring facilities and put together a financial plan with an advisor. Having this plan in place will help relieve your stress and will give you a care plan moving forward. It’s not enough to have a vague plan in place. Talk over your options with the doctor and get ahead of the prognosis with a distinct care plan.


If that’s not an option and you’re trying to determine whether a senior needs to move into senior living, the first step is to determine if they are at risk in their current living situation. Depending on the progress of the disease, it may not be necessary to move directly into a facility at this moment. Here are some questions you can ask:


Is the person with Dementia/Alzheimer’s becoming unsafe in their current home?

Are the Caregiving Demands becoming too much of a burden?


These two questions are critical. First, senior safety is the main concern. That might sound like an obvious thing to say but a lot of families ignore the warning signs. Another reason why having that plan is so important. If they are not living with a direct caregiver, whoever makes the senior living must be vigilant about the senior’s living situation. Second, the caregiver needs to honestly evaluate their ability to care for that senior. That could mean that the medical needs of the senior are becoming too burdensome. Also, how’s the caregiver doing? Caregiver burnout is a real issue since they dedicate so much time to care.

What are My Options?


If you determine that it is no longer safe for the senior to stay in their home, then it’s time to find an Assisted Living. It is incredibly difficult to find the right care option but you do have options. The right Assisted Living or Memory Care is out there. We started Willow to address this issue directly.  Our service will match your senior to appropriate Assisted Livings based on care needs and budget.  But if you’re not ready for that (or you don’t trust internet companies), we have more information on how to determine the appropriate fit.


What is Assisted Living?


Assisted Living Facilities serve as a bridge in senior care services between Home Care and Skilled Nursing Facilities. They get their name from the initial services offered: assistance with activities of daily living. The facility has staff that will assist your loved one with moving around, dressing, bathing, toileting, and/or eating. Most facilities offer services beyond that such as medication management.


The average cost of an Assisted Living Facility is $48,000 per year. While this price tag will definitely be higher than what your senior was paying before, it is still less than most Memory Care services. Therefore, if you are able to move your loved one into an Assisted Living for a few years before Memory Care, you will save them hundreds of thousands in care costs.

 Memory Care  

What is Memory Care?

Ok, here’s where it gets confusing. Memory Care is not a technical term so both Assisted Living Facilities and Skilled Nursing Facilities provide can provide Memory Care. Assisted Living Facilities already provide assistance with a lot of the activities that a family caregiver might help with already. The major difference is staff training. Memory care units have specially trained staff who are used to dealing with Memory Care residents. These staff members are experienced with monitoring your senior for appropriate hygiene and health. They regularly remind the resident to eat, shower, and use the bathroom. That service is called “cueing”. Additionally, most Memory Care units have security protocols in place that help keep residents from wandering off.


The main difference between Skilled Nursing Memory Care and Assisted Living Memory Care is the amount of medical care needed. If a senior only needs some cueing and they wander off, then they are an appropriate fit for an Assisted Living. If they have more serious medical needs then they need a Skilled Nursing Facility. Serious medical needs would be: they can’t get out of bed, they are fed intravenously, or they actively resist assistance. A senior that exhibits any of those behaviors would not belong in an Assisted Living Memory Care unit.


How much does it cost? The average cost of an Assisted Living Memory Care unit is $60,000 per year. The reason that Memory Care units are more expensive is due to the additional care requirements for these residents. It costs more to use these services because all these residents require more one-on-one time with the aides. A good Memory Care unit will have Aides who are constantly cueing the residents to eat and dress. Ultimately, the cost of Memory Care is worth it if you have a family member with serious assistance needs.

Which One is Right for You?


The easiest way to assess which type of Assisted Living is better for your senior is to ask two questions. The first is: “How much reminding does my senior need?” The answer to this question will determine which level of care is appropriate. If the senior only needs a few reminders a day, like when to eat and when to shower, then they could probably go into an Assisted Living. If they need more frequent reminders, then you want to look into Memory Care. Now, if the answer to the first question was “yes”, here’s the next question you need to ask: “Does my senior wander off?” The answer to this question is about frequency. If your senior has wandered off before once or twice, then they could probably go to an Assisted Living. Every Assisted Living is required to monitor the entrances and exits to ensure resident safety. However, if your senior frequently wanders off, then it’s time to consider Memory Care. Wandering is the most dangerous behavior for someone who needs Memory Care, especially during the winter months. You want to make sure that if your senior wanders, the facility has adequate security in place to prevent them from leaving the building. Therefore, the number of times a senior has wandered off is a critical part of the Memory Care assessment.



It’s already difficult to find good Assisted Living, it’s even harder to assess if someone needs Memory Care or Assisted Living. Remember, when assessing Memory Care needs, assess the amount of cueing (reminding) and the number of times a senior wanders. Both of these questions will help you determine which service is better for you.

We're Here for You.


Willow uses technology to provide senior living recommendations to families based on their inputted care needs and budget. It is completely free for families to use. 


Buffalo, NY