A table in a doctor's office waiting room features a rack of brochures showing different kinds of home care focuses on the elderly.

Assisted Living, Nursing Homes, & Memory Care: What Are the Differences?

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or any type of dementia, at some point, you may consider assisted living.

There is a range of options where you can find supportive caretakers who help with the activities of daily life, offer specialized memory care, and provide expert medical care.

Let's review the differences between assisted living, nursing homes, and memory care. Which one is right for you? It depends on how much help you or your loved one needs and how specialized your medical care needs are.

Assisted living facilities

Assisted living facilities are designed to help people handle day-to-day life activities like bathing, dressing, eating, managing personal hygiene, grooming, taking medication, and moving around. They are not equipped to provide specialized medical care.1

Assisted living facilities often offer residents a range of living arrangements, from private apartments to shared rooms. There is a lot of variation among centers, but most also provide communal areas, fitness facilities, organized transportation, and activities. These services help meet the social and emotional needs of residents. To ensure safety, most centers also provide round-the-clock supervision and security.1

The average cost of assisted living in the US is $3,700 per month for room and board.1 Different centers charge differently, though. Some include services and activities in their base rate, and others charge a supplement.

Assisted living is not regulated at the federal level, and licenses vary by state. Even so, most assisted living offers:

  • housekeeping services
  • three meals a day plus snacks
  • health and exercise programs
  • scheduled transportation
  • a variety of organized activities and events
  • 24-hour security

Many places also have:1,2

  • swimming pools
  • gyms
  • beauty salons
  • music rooms
  • libraries
  • gardens
  • common areas for socializing

Memory care facilities

Some assisted living centers also have specialized services or memory care units to help people with Alzheimer’s. These units are often a special floor or wing in an assisted living facility. Memory care units offer the same services and amenities as assisted living. But they also include increased supervision and security as well as activities intended to stimulate memory, promote calm and relaxation. These include arts and crafts, games, music, movement, and social activities.1,2

Memory care units may also have special floorplans or walking paths where residents can wander safely. They may also avoid hallways that lead to dead ends or corners. These kinds of features may upset people with Alzheimer’s.1,2

Different facilities require different levels of training for their staff. But many memory care facilities require specialized training to assist people with Alzheimer's. The staff are more equipped to handle residents’ specialized needs and to redirect difficult behaviors.1,2 The average cost of memory care in the US is $5,000 per month.1

Nursing home facilities

Nursing homes offer an even greater level of medical care than memory care centers. They generally have a licensed physician or nurse on-site and they often employ physical and occupational therapists to help residents.3 Sometimes known as skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes may be helpful in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.2

In addition to offering help with daily activities, nursing homes also provide round-the-clock skilled nursing care and medical attention.3 If your loved one needs a feeding tube, for example, they would need the services of a nursing home rather than an assisted living facility. In terms of atmosphere, nursing homes can feel more like hospitals or institutions, while assisted living homes can have more of a community feel.1

The added services and specialized care come at a higher price, often twice the cost for nursing homes.1 However, if a nursing home meets national and state licensing requirements, it may be paid for through Medicare or Medicaid.4

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