Memory Care Facilities: A Complete Guide

Key Takeaways

  • Memory care facilities are specialized environments for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, offering skilled nursing, daily activity assistance, and personal care.
  • They provide more intensive care than regular assisted living, with staff trained for dementia-specific challenges.
  • Different types of memory loss treated include Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Treatments include therapies like occupational therapy, physical therapy, reality orientation, and validation therapy, aimed at improving residents’ quality of life.
  • Amenities in memory care communities can range from pet-friendly accommodations, private rooms, music therapy, art therapy, and scenic outdoor areas.
  • Costs average $3,500 to $4,500 monthly, with various payment options including insurance and Medicaid.

For people who are living with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or memory problems, memory care can provide a healing environment and help them learn to manage their new diagnosis.

Unlike other forms of assisted living, memory care facilities come with specially trained staff members and highly structured environments that help people with memory-related conditions feel safe and at home.

What Is Memory Care?

Memory care is a type of assisted living environment that is specialized for people with Alzeimer’s disease or other types of dementia and memory problems.

What sets these types of facilities apart from other kinds of assisted living homes is a high level of skilled nursing and medical care given to each resident along with assistance in daily activities and basic personal care skills.

Memory care can either take place at special facilities that are built for this type of care, or they can be found as separate wings or memory care units within traditional assisted living facilities.

Memory Care Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

While memory care focuses on memory issues and certain types of dementia involving memory, like Alzheimer’s, dementia care is more involved and complex.

For example, people with dementia may have memory issues that need to be treated but also have issues with communication and understanding certain basic concepts.

Memory care can be paid for in a number of ways, and usually requires a combination of payment methods, including private funds or self-pay.

In addition to private funds, people can use either Medicare or Medicaid, but neither of these options will usually cover the costs of memory care completely.

The life expectancy of a person with dementia is around 8 to 12 years on average, though this number can be higher or lower and depends greatly on the type of dementia and other factors.

With quality care and evidence-based treatments and therapies, dementia patients can find their quality of life improved and may even find their lifespan lengthened.

There is no single type of facility or living option that is best for all dementia patients, as each individual is different and has different senior living needs.

The best type of care for dementia patients will depend heavily on the severity of their dementia and whether they have other medical conditions or require around-the-clock care.

Types of Memory Loss Treated at Memory Care Facilities

While Alzheimer’s may be the most well-known form of dementia, memory care is designed to care for people with many forms of dementia.

Types of memory loss and dementia treated at memory care facilities include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Early onset dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Mixed dementia
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Memory Care vs. Assisted Living

Memory care facilities and assisted living homes are similar in that they both provide room and board and help with activities of daily living (ADL).

Memory care facilities differ in that they provide additional skilled medical and nursing care, with staff that are specially trained to care for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

When it comes to memory care and assisted living, neither one is necessarily better than the other, but one type of senior care may be more appropriate for an individual and their needs than the other.

Memory Care vs. Other Types of Elder Care

Memory care is one of many types of elder care available today.

Other living options and types of elder care include:

Aging In Place

Occurs when an elder remains in their current home and makes modifications to their house and living environment.

Nursing Homes

Provide a similar level of support as memory care facilities, but are not necessarily specialized for any specific condition or type of conditions.

Senior Co-Housing

Can be a variety of housing types, at which a small group of seniors live together and share common areas and supportive services.

Live-In Care

Allows for seniors to essentially age in place at their current home, but under the direct and constant care of an onsite caregiver or nurse.

All of these options are suitable for seniors in certain situations. However, for many of them, seniors must be able to care for themselves up to a certain level of daily functioning. Others may not have staff trained in treating memory patients.

Memory care facilities are the only kind of facility that specifically address the various challenges faced by memory-related dementia patients.

What Happens at a Memory Care Facility?

While every memory care facility is different, there are definitely a few services that you can expect to find as standard memory care service.

Memory Therapy

Most memory care facilities will offer a combination of habilitation therapies shown to be effective when treating dementia and memory problems, as well as cognitive therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Therapies like occupational therapy, validation therapy, and reality orientation therapy in memory care can address and treat elders’ memories and mental health.

Daily Elder Care

People who are in elder care likely need assistance with their daily activities and personal care, in addition to the specialized care they need for their memory.

This will mean different things for each person, and will depend on how physically and mentally able the elder is to perform certain tasks.

Daily elder care can include:

  • Nursing care
  • Dressing and bathing assistance
  • Medical care
  • Meals
  • Nutrition planning
  • Hydration monitoring
  • Medication monitoring
  • Transportation to and from doctor appointments

Activities & Exercise

Recreational activities and exercise are important for memory care residents, and many of the activities facilities offer are meant to engage their memories and minds.

Physical recreational activities are also important, or any types of games and crafts that keep elders entertained and occupied, especially if they offer opportunities for socializing as well.

Some memory-related activities a facility may provide to help with memory loss:

  • Listening to music
  • Viewing home videos
  • Watching beloved TV shows or movies
  • Stimulation therapy, such as puzzles, playing charades, or other brain games
  • Compiling ‘memory boxes’ which may contain items significant to the elder
  • Artistic activities, such as molding clay or painting
  • Pet therapy and animal-assisted therapy
  • Baking or cooking to encourage scent or taste memories

Treatments in Memory Care Facilities

While there is no cure for dementia, there are many treatments and therapies available that can make life easier for people who are living with dementia.

These treatments, when used in combination, can greatly improve a person’s quality of life and allow them to live more comfortably and confidently during this difficult time.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is designed to help elders continue living their lives as normally as possible, or as closely to what they are accustomed to as possible, even as they adjust to their new situations or conditions.

An example of occupational therapy is in teaching patients to organize their closets or pantries in ways that are more effective and accessible to the activities they are trying to perform, such as cooking or getting dressed.

Physical Therapy

Elderly people may experience problems with balance and coordination. These problems may worsen with the onset of dementia or other memory problems and in anyone who may be at risk for wandering or getting lost.

Physical therapy can help address some of these balance issues, as well as alleviate symptoms of mental illness through exercise and physical activity.

Reality Orientation

Reality orientation therapy is a type of counseling that was originally created to help disabled veterans, but which has since also proven v effective in treating dementia patients.

In this type of therapy, the counselor uses orientation techniques to constantly keep the elder aware of and in check with their surroundings.

For example, the therapist will ask the elder to frequently name people, places, and objects from their stories or surroundings, and may even place written labels on various items around the room where the therapy is taking place.

Validation Therapy

Validation therapy is a type of counseling that has proven to be effective in treating patients with dementia and other memory problems.

This type of therapy focuses on ensuring that the patient feels heard and validated in their experiences, without trying to challenge their thoughts or behaviors in any way.

Amenities & Services in Memory Care Communities

Not all memory care facilities will offer the same level of amenities, and those with a lot of amenities may even be considered “luxury” facilities.

In general, amenities are offered to make a memory care environment feel more like home so residents feel comfortable and have a sense of normalcy.

Amenities and services in memory care communities may include:

  • Pet-friendly accommodations
  • Private rooms or semi-private rooms
  • Transportation services
  • Laundry services
  • Housekeeping services
  • Social programs for stimulation
  • Activities of daily living (ADL) assistance
  • Music therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Pet therapy
  • Worship services
  • Courtyards and scenic outdoor areas

Benefits of Memory Care Facilities

While a memory care facility is not always the right choice for a senior, these facilities can provide a lot of benefits to those who need them.

These facilities can also provide a lot of benefits to the loved ones of residents in memory care, who can rest assured knowing their family member is safe and cared for.

Secure Environment for Elders

Elders with certain conditions, like severe dementia, can be a danger to themselves or others when wandering leads to injuries or other mishaps.

With research from the Alzheimer’s Association stating that roughly 6 in 10 dementia patients have a history of wandering, this is a serious risk that must be taken into consideration.

Memory care facilities provide safety and security by providing residents with both an enclosed facility and an engaged and compassionate staff.

Private, Semi-Private, & Accessible Room Options

Private, semi-private, and accessible room options allow elderly people to experience many of the same comforts and security they would experience within their own home.

Private rooms usually entail a private bedroom and bathroom, whereas semi-private rooms may involve a separate bedroom area and a shared bathroom with one or more other residents.

Accessible rooms may include qualities like extra-wide doorways to accommodate wheelchairs and supportive rails in bathrooms and showers.

Targeted Treatment Plans

The goal of memory care facilities is to ensure that every elder is getting the targeted care they need out of the memory care program. This can be difficult to achieve, as some elders with severe dementia may no longer be able to effectively communicate.

With this in mind, high-quality memory care facilities offer treatment plans that are customized and individualized for each elder.

Tailored treatment plans are put in place after careful coordination with the elder’s entire care team, as well as any loved ones overseeing their care.

Ongoing Support & Medical Care

Residents of memory care communities can expect to receive full and comprehensive medical support and care during their stays, as people with dementia often experience physical impairments and other medical conditions along with their dementia.

Individual Nutrition Planning

Memory care facilities and other types of assisted living typically provide at least 3 meals a day, along with snacks and beverages.

Individuals in memory care facilities may require special nutritional planning or diet assistance, especially if they have other medical conditions in addition to their memory problems.

Personalized Care Coordination

Memory care often involves full coordination with an elder’s medical team, including all doctors, therapists, and specialists involved in their care plan.

Further, there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to treating elders with dementia, so personalized treatment plans and care coordination are essential.

Cost of Memory Care Facilities

Pricing for assisted living homes matches the care level they provide. Long-term memory care facilities may cost upwards of $3,500 to $4,500 a month depending on location and the level of care required.

These costs are generally covered through the elder’s private savings, pension payments, or retirement funds. Some elders may still require further financial assistance from family members or loved ones.

In addition to private funds, elders can also help fund their assisted living costs through various types of health care insurance, such as

  • Private insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Long-term care insurance

Even with insurance, older adults will likely still find only a portion of their memory care costs covered. For this reason, it’s best to start thinking about the costs of memory care as early as possible to allow for proper planning and exploring memory care payment options.

Tips for Choosing a High-Quality Memory Care Facility

It is crucial to choose a high-quality memory care facility for your loved one, as this is where they will be spending all of their time under the care of people they must be able to trust.

Qualities to look for when choosing a high-quality memory care facility include:

  • National accreditation
  • Certifications and memberships
  • Designation as a non-profit organization
  • Use of evidence-based treatments
  • Experienced and specialized staff
  • Low staff-to-senior ratio
  • Positive feedback and reviews from former residents or their family members

What Certifications Do Memory Care Specialists & Facilities Need?

Certifications for memory care facilities vary from state to state.

State Certifications for Memory Care Facilities

In general, state requirements are not very high for memory care certifications, and one study in 2017 by The Gerontologist found that only 16 states provide licensing or certification for dementia care units.

In addition, of states that offer licensed memory care facilities:

  • All states had dementia care requirements.
  • Most states had regulations for administrator training, disclosure, and facility environment.
  • However, only 17 states had regulations for staff training, types, and levels and pre-admission evaluations for dementia.

Staff & Professional Training for Memory Care Specialists

Licensed professionals with specialized training in treating memory care patients include

Certified Dementia Practitioners (CDP).

These are professionals with specialized training in Alzheimer’s and dementia care. To become a CDP, one must complete a seminar provided by the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners (NCCDP).

In addition, many memory care networks provide their own individual training programs for staff members.

While states do not have high expectations for memory care requirements, many facilities voluntarily exceed these expectations by outsourcing training of their staff to a memory care specialist program and by seeking memory care facility accreditation, such as through the Joint Commission.

Questions to Ask Before Placing Your Loved One in Memory Care

If you have been thinking about placing a loved one in memory care, you already know it is not an easy choice to make, especially if your loved one is fighting the discussion.

Questions to ask yourself when deciding to place a loved one in memory care include:

  • Does your loved one require constant or daily care and assistance with basic activities such as dressing and bathing themselves?
  • Does your loved one have trouble with physical activity or with getting around the home?
  • Has your loved one shown signs of being a danger to themselves, such as habits of wandering or getting lost?
  • Has your loved one shown signs of being a danger to others, such as showing aggression or hostility?
  • Does your loved one have other medical conditions in addition to their memory problems?
  • Does your loved one need care beyond what you or another family member can give them without skilled training?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, it could be time to start considering memory care for your loved one.

Alternatives to Memory Care

Memory care isn’t the only option for people who are living with dementia or memory problems. In fact, many people may be more comfortable with care that is less intensive or which doesn’t require 24/7 care.

Live-In Care

Residential care is not always an option for all seniors in need of medical care, and some may prefer to be cared for in the comfort of their own home, or the home of a loved one.

In these cases, a registered nurse may live onsite with the elder, providing care and assistance as needed on a 24/7 basis.

At-Home Care Options With Medicaid

Medicaid is a type of state-funded health insurance for women who are pregnant, people who are caregivers to children under 18, people with disabilities or who are over the age of 65, or people who have incomes below a certain threshold or limit.

Elders have a few options when it comes to at-home care options through Medicaid:

  • Money Follows the Person is a program that assists elders as they move out of nursing homes and provides supportive services to help them transition into a more independent lifestyle.
  • PACE/LIFE Program is for people who need nursing home care, but is designed to provide enough supportive services, medically and socially, to prevent them from needing to enter nursing homes.
  • Consumer Directed Care is also for people who need nursing home-level care but who would prefer to make their own choices when it comes to how their medical care is carried out and performed.

Not all of these programs are offered in every state, so always check with your state Medicaid office for availability and eligibility requirements.

Adult Day Care

Adult day care allows for a safe and secure environment for seniors to get the assistance and social interaction they need during the day, while returning to their own home or the home of a loved one at night.

During a typical day in adult day care, elders can get assistance with activities of daily living and participate in social and recreational activities with other elders, usually returning home after 8 to 12 hours of supervision and care.

Adult Foster Care

Adult foster care are single-family homes that house 1-5 residents at any given time with the addition of on-site caregivers who are available 24/7.

Residents of adult foster care homes usually have their own bedrooms but share all common areas of the house, including bathrooms, kitchens, and living room areas.

These housing programs can be much more affordable than traditional assisted living communities. Residents can receive many of the same services and care as long as they are willing to share a living space with others.

Find Memory Care Facilities Near You

Deciding to place a loved one in memory care is not an easy decision, nor is it a decision that should be made lightly or without careful consideration. Despite this, it is often the decision that is best for a loved one who is living with memory issues or dementia.

To locate high-quality facilities for memory care in your area, browse the directory of assisted living facilities located on our website.

Your loved one deserves care that is kind, compassionate, and understanding of their individual challenges, and we can help you find it today. Reach out now for help with finding the right type of long-term care for your elderly loved one.

Written by: Aging with Care Editorial Staff

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