Alzheimer’s & Dementia
Assisted living v. memory care: What’s the difference?
December 01, 2023
If your parent has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you may be wondering when caring for them at home may no longer be a sustainable – or safe – option. While every situation is unique and should be discussed with a physician, your parent should stop living alone if they’re experiencing injuries, wandering outside the home or putting themselves in dangerous situations.
You may have heard about memory care but may not fully understand what it is, what types of services are available, how much it costs and whether it’s a better option than in-home care.
Memory care is a term that refers to very specialized, long-term dementia care for people with memory impairment. Many assisted living communities, continuing care retirement communities and nursing homes offer memory care services. Memory care communities may be a better option for your parent because they provide the type of daily care, attention and engagement that helps people with dementia live as fulfilling a life as possible.
Here are a few important things to consider when choosing a memory care community, along with some insights from Amber McDaniel, Divisional Engage Life Director at Atria, who not only advises families of parents living with dementia but is currently facing these same challenges with a member of her own family.
Senior living community residents enjoy a host of amenities, services, programs and social events designed to make everyday life more convenient, fulfilling and engaging. Memory care communities offer a similar experience, but within a safe, structured environment with a specialized staff and programs designed to lower stress for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
“Memory care residents receive whatever assistance they may need with the activities of daily living,” says McDaniel. “The staff guides daily programs, serves meals and offers personalized interaction and support throughout the day.”
Memory care programs are designed to improve cognitive function and, in robust communities, are tailored to residents and their specific stage of disease. Staff members understand each resident’s degree of dementia and provide the structure and support needed to navigate their day.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in 10 people with dementia are prone to wander. Memory care communities typically feature floor plans and enclosed outdoor spaces designed to keep residents safe while not restricting their freedom. In many communities, interior spaces are painted in soothing colors and apartment doors are personalized with photos and mementos that resonate with residents and help them more easily identify their apartment. To prevent residents from wandering out of the community, any exits or elevators require special access codes. Some communities offer tracking bracelets to monitor a resident’s exact location.
Although many people diagnosed with dementia can live on their own during the early stages of the disease, at some point they will require around-the-clock supervision or more specialized care than an in-home caregiver can provide. Here are some questions the Alzheimer’s Association suggests asking to help you determine if it’s the right time for a move to a memory care neighborhood.
McDaniel says that many families struggle when placing their parent in memory care because they feel like they’re giving up and abandoning them.
“I help families understand that memory care is a type of reset,” she says. “While we love our parents deeply, we can’t care for them the way they’ll be cared for by specially trained memory care staff. These professionals understand dementia and know how to establish the routines and use programs that not only help your parent cope with their disease but are designed to slow its progression.
“The reset comes from understanding that memory care establishes the new normal. You hand off the caregiver responsibilities to a team that’s devoted to helping people with dementia – and you become a supportive family member who helps your parent live their best possible life in an environment that caters to their special needs.”
The cost of memory care depends on the level of care needed and varies from state to state. According to this AARP article, the average memory care monthly rent is $6,935. While this is more than assisted living, which averages $5,380 a month, it’s a lot less than the $10,562 average monthly cost of a nursing home.
A financial expert or elder law attorney can help you explore finance options, including life insurance policies, Medicare and veterans benefits. The memory care community you are considering can also provide more information and resources.
Atria’s memory care neighborhoods provide the same high caliber of amenities, chef-prepared meals and engaging programs as our senior living communities, but they are designed specifically with the needs of individuals with dementia and their families in mind.
We’re happy to share our expertise and offer any support we can. Let us call on our relationships with trusted senior living organizations and help find the best solution for you and your family. Reach out to your local Atria community director today and they’ll be happy to help.