June 24

Assisted Living vs Memory Care: A Step-by-Step Guide


Are you worried about your senior loved one wandering off? Do you fear no one can keep an eye on them as well as you can? 

You worry about them wandering outside of the facility and getting lost. Or maybe you fear they become violent when agitated. 

You know it's time to consider moving your loved one with dementia to a care community, but you want to make sure you pick the right one. 

You want to trust that where your senior loved one stays is going to be the best equipped to take care of them, and you want to make sure it's something you can afford. 

Our Aging Life Care Managers help you understand the differences between the communities and provide you with a step-by-step guide to choosing the best one below. 

What are Care Communities 

Care Communities exist to help care for seniors through their twilight years. There are many options out there, but only two will work for a resident with Alzheimer's or dementia. 

It's hard to admit, but caring for someone with Alzheimer's is an increasingly difficult task. Sometimes, it reaches a point that it is unmanageable without some sort of specialized living arrangement. 

Assisted Living, and Memory Care, in particular, is best suited for seniors with memory loss. But picking the right one will depend on their degree of impairment. 

What exactly is Assisted Living or Memory Care, and what is the difference? 

to speak with one of our Aging Life Care Managers about assisted living and memory care care communities.

Assisted Living

Assisted Living communities allow their residents to live independent lives. Staff members assist residents where they might need extra help. 

How much assistance each resident needs will depend on each person individually. Some residents might need help with meals, while others need assistance with bathing or medications. 

A senior might need to relocate to an Assisted Living community if daily activities become too difficult or too risky for them to continue to live independently. 

Memory Care

Residents in a Memory Care unit need aid with memory-related things. Seniors here might forget what they are doing or get agitated when familiar things feel unusual.

Just like Assisted Living, residents in a Memory Care unit or facility will have access to social activities, laundry services, etc., but with an elevated level of care. 

Seniors with more substantial memory loss will benefit from Memory Care units, especially those who become agitated or anger quickly.

Differences Between Assisted Living and Memory Care

Assisted Living facilities may have Memory Care units on the premises, but the two types of care are not synonymous. Memory Care is a specialized care catering to patients with memory problems, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 

Memory Care units are also called Special Care Units (SCUs). They provide 24-hour supervised care, usually within a separate wing or floor of a residential facility.

If your loved one is no longer able to care for him or herself due to progressive impairment, memory care offers a residential solution.

Of course, if your senior loved one does not require a Memory Care unit's specialized care, then the more independent living environment provided by an Assisted Living facility would be a better fit. 


Memory Care will be more expensive than an Assisted Living facility. In a Memory Care unit, residents have more assistance and supervision than in other facilities, and they have access to specially trained staff. 

You can pay for Memory Care units in the same ways that you would pay for an Assisted Living facility. The most significant difference between the two in terms of cost is that Memory Care is more expensive. 

Many people use private means, such as long-term care insurance, to cover the cost of an Assisted Living facility. With insurance, it is best if you start planning for long-term care as soon as possible. Purchasing it early can help keep your monthly premiums down. 

If you don't have long-term care insurance, you might still have options. People with military service or certain health disabilities may have access to assisted living coverage. 

Care Managers have the expertise and experience to help clients determine if any financial assistance for “room and board” coverage might be available.  


A Memory Care unit will have more security measures in place. This is an essential feature for residents who might wander or become frustrated quickly. 

Architecturally, most memory care units are designed with hallways, allowing residents to walk around without meeting barriers or exits. 

Some Memory Care units feature a more relaxing atmosphere. They will have more windows for natural lighting, and bright colors on the wall, even the artwork and furniture may differ from an Assisted Living facility. 


Assisted Living communities hire staff members trained in helping residents with their day-to-day activities. Staff members assist with bathing, medications, and meals. 

Staff in a Memory Care unit should have more specialized training in caring for dementia residents. They know how to communicate better with people with Alzheimer's and how to respond to disruptive behaviors. 

Another difference you will notice in staffing at an Assisted Living facility vs. a Memory Care unit is the staff-to-residents ratio. 

An Assisted Living community can allow more residents per staff member since it is more of an independent living setting. But in a memory care unit, each staff member may be assigned to 5 or fewer residents. This helps make sure that the resident is receiving the specialized care he or she needs. 

Other Differences

Other differences between the two care communities vary, but a couple of them you’ll find different meals served in a Memory Care unit because Alzheimer's residents may struggle with silverware.

You’ll see a difference in activity scheduling at an Assisted Living facility vs. a Memory Care unit. Memory Care units need to maintain strict schedules, and they may focus or limit activities to ones that help calm the residents and avoid exciting them. 

Which one is Best for Your Loved One? 

When you are trying to decide which community is best for your loved one, consider how much your loved one can do on their own and how much assistance they require. 

Safety is a significant concern. A resident with dementia will generally be safer in a memory care unit, as it is designed with that condition in mind. 

If you need help evaluating your options, our Aging Care managers can help guide you. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Assisted Living vs Memory Care

Selecting the perfect community for your senior loved one is not an easy task. Let's recap everything we've discussed above in a step-by-step guide to help you pick the right facility. 

  1. Learn the Differences — It's essential to understand what is offered in both care communities, especially when the cost for Memory Care is much higher than that of an Assisted Living Community. 
  1. Consider Level of Care Needed — After you learn what each community has to offer, you can evaluate what you or your loved one will need. You need to look at safety concerns, level of involvement from staff, and what type of environment best suits your loved one's needs. 
  1. Visit Care Communities (Facilities) — It is also beneficial to visit different communities. Seeing the differences and meeting the staff in person can help you decide where your loved one will be most comfortable. 
  1. Meet with Aging Life Care Managers — At Aging Outreach Services, our Aging Life Care Managers are here to help you make this difficult decision. Meeting with us assures you that you have help in the decision-making process and have an expert who is invested in your loved one's care. 

Quick Recap

So, how do you decide which care community is the best one for you or your loved one? Let’s do a quick recap to find out. 

  • Assisted Living offer seniors a community where residents can live independently while they receive support with meals and daily living activities like bathing, dressing and personal care.
  • Memory Care units are designed for residents with memory loss. This type of care community provides specialized care, heightened security, and a calming environment. 
  • Cost, activity scheduling, environment, and staffing are some ways that the two communities differ, with Memory Care units being more expensive but better equipped to care for dementia patients. 

Are you still not sure which facility is best for you or your loved one? Keep reading to find out how our Aging Life Care Managers can help. 

Meet With an Aging Life Care Manager

Are you worried that you will pick the wrong care community for yourself or your loved one? 

You want to make sure that your safety concerns, as well as your financial concerns, are addressed? 

Our Aging Life Care Managers will help. We will discuss your options and ensure that you have thought about every possible outcome. 

We will keep you informed and help you find the right resources to rest assured that you made the right choice in your care community. 

Request a free consultation to speak with one of our Aging Life Care Managers about assisted living and memory care care communities.

Request a Consultation

Life over 50 is complicated. From illnesses to general aging-related difficulties, there's a lot to learn and a lot to cope with. We understand and we're here to help answer questions and provide guidance on your options.

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