Dementia is progressive, which means that someone with the disease will almost certainly get worse over time and require long-term care, such as assisted living and/or memory care. Assisted living can be for any senior that needs assistance with something — from housekeeping and making meals to showering and getting around.
“Memory care is assisted living PLUS,” says Carrie Wilson, who is director of the Reflections Memory Program at the Ivy at Ellington.
Memory care communities are typically housed within assisted living communities and offer 24/7 care from professional staff members with specialized training for the care of those suffering from dementia and other cognitive impairments, including memory loss.
“The entire environment and program of memory care is specifically geared toward keeping a senior with memory impairment or dementia as independent and successful as possible while living a social, fun, happy life day in and day out,” Wilson says.
Here’s a closer look at the differences between assisted living and memory care — two of the fastest growing options for long-term senior care.
Assisted living communities are designed to empower seniors to maintain their independence while allowing for easy access to assistance, activities, and companionship. They allow seniors to live in a residential, homelike setting and enjoy an independent lifestyle while receiving non-medical assistance with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and medication management.
Assisted living communities typically provide 24-hour staff supervision, prepared meals, housekeeping services, transportation, and care plans tailored to each senior’s individual needs. Even though assisted living communities provide only non-medical care, they generally have at least one nurse who assesses each resident’s needs and creates an individual care plan for assistance with daily activities.
Memory care is a distinct form of long-term care that specifically caters to people with dementia and other types of memory problems. Basic services such as meal prep, laundry, and housekeeping are included, but specialized medical care and a high level of assistance with daily activities are also provided as the staff is prepared to handle many different needs.
Memory care communities often offer structured activities or programs designed to nurture residents with dementia. Additionally, the physical layout and security of memory care communities are designed to better suit people with dementia. The level of care that memory care communities provide can really help residents maintain their quality of life, even as their cognitive impairment worsens.
Memory Care Within Assisted Living
Memory care programs often exist as a wing within an assisted living community, and many seniors start in assisted living before transitioning to memory care.
“The beauty of that situation is the senior is already comfortable in the community,” Wilson says. “They already know the staff, who work in both assisted living and memory care, and they already know other memory care residents.”
When you’re searching for the right memory care community for your loved one, Wilson recommends looking for a community that offers both assisted living and memory care.
“When you are touring an assisted living community, tour it’s memory care community as well,” she says. “You may love assisted living at a community, but their memory care could be less than ideal. Make sure you see it all. You may never need it, but if you do, you want that memory care to be the best!”
That way, if your loved one does transition to memory care, the move is as seamless and easy as possible — they’re simply moving from one apartment to another within a familiar setting.
“Otherwise, you, as the family, end up doing the whole process — research, touring, moving — twice and the senior ends up having to leave one familiar environment for an entirely new environment with all new faces, new surroundings, new routine, which can be substantially more detrimental to a senior with memory impairment or dementia,” Wilson says.
It can be challenging to navigate your options and choose the best memory care community for your loved one. Every facility and community is different, and all have different pros and cons. That’s why you should learn as much as you can about memory care before deciding on a facility.
For more information about how family caregivers can make sure a memory care community is the right fit for their loved one with dementia, download our eBook What to Look for in a Memory Care Community.