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Assisted Living vs. Memory Care: What’s the Difference?

According to the Census Bureau, the number of U.S. residents over age 65 will increase to 98.2 million by 2050. Given that 68% of these senior citizens will need assistance with daily living activities, a substantial portion could end up living in assisted living or memory care facilities.

If you’re researching options for yourself or for an elderly family member, you might find the wide array of choices confusing. How do you know which one is right for you?

Let’s discuss two of the fastest-growing types of senior care: assisted living and memory care. While there is some overlap between the two, they are not the same. It’s important to understand the differences between the two.

Assisted Living: Independence With Occasional Help

woman in wheelchair to illustrate assisted living

Some senior citizens may be mentally sharp and physically active, but they still need assistance with activities of daily living. As we age, tasks, like getting dressed, cooking meals, and maintaining personal hygiene, can become too much to manage.

That’s where assisted living comes in. Residents of assisted living facilities receive a helping hand for daily activities, but they still live relatively independently. (Learn a lot more about assisted living in’s Assisted Living Guide.)

Memory Care: Safety for Seniors With Dementia

senior woman doing puzzle, to illustrate memory care
Memory care is similar to assisted living, but it is optimized to better suit adults with progressive cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other memory problems. You may see memory care also referred to as Alzheimer’s care or dementia care.

Memory care patients have special needs. They may become disoriented, and some have a tendency to wander away from home. Staff at memory care facilities have specialized training to better assist residents with cognitive impairments.

With memory care facilities, there’s also an increased emphasis on security and intuitive layout, which prevent confused residents from endangering themselves or getting lost.

Planning for the Future

Assisted living and memory care are not interchangeable terms. However, many assisted living facilities offer memory care as part of a suite of available services. Such facilities often are called continuing care retirement communities or, more recently, life plan communities.

Even if your loved one does not yet require memory care, you may want to select an assisted living facility that provides it. There’s always the chance that it will be needed in the future. If so, selecting a home that offers memory care will ease the transition. Moving is stressful, especially for those with cognitive impairments, so planning ahead can help alleviate disorientation.

Comparing Care Costs

The average cost of living in a private apartment within an assisted living community is about $3,000 per month. That’s according to the senior living trade association Argentum. Of course, that cost can vary considerably depending on location and services.

As you might have guessed, the extras included with memory care come at a cost. With such a wide range of options available, it’s difficult to pin down average costs for memory care. To be safe, plan on paying a premium of around 40% over the costs of standard assisted living.

Memory Care vs. Assisted Living: Which for You?

If you’re weighing options for yourself or a loved one, you might wonder which of these arrangements is a better choice.

For adults who need help with the basic requirements of daily life, but are still otherwise independent, assisted living is a clear choice. Assisted living provides seniors with the help they need to keep living life to the fullest. It also provides a built-in social network and a full calendar of social activities.

Those who struggle with cognitive impairment, however, will be healthier, happier and safer in a memory care program. These types of facilities are specifically designed to meet their needs. And for those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, moving a loved one into memory care offers much-needed peace of mind.

More in this series:

Assisted Living vs. Independent Living

Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes

Assisted Living vs. Home Care

Assisted Living Guide

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