Nurse pushing old man in wheelchair
The journey through aging requires specialized care and attention, especially for those with memory-related conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia. If you are exploring senior living options for your aging parent or loved one, you want to ensure the community you choose provides them with the specialized care they need. In this article, we explore the key differences between memory care for Alzheimer’s or dementia and traditional assisted living to help you make an informed decision.

Memory Care vs Assisted Living

Quality assisted living communities will take the time to sit down with you and guide you through all of the senior living options available to you or your loved one, answering any of the questions you may have about memory care vs. assisted living. These conversations will guide the creation of a personalized plan that addresses all aspects of well-being. Understanding the meaning of important terms like memory care and assisted living before you visit can help you arrive prepared.

What is Memory Care?

Memory care is a specialized form of assisted living tailored to seniors coping with dementia. Often referred to as special care units, these facilities offer long-term skilled nurses who specialize in dementia care and Alzheimer’s care. Within memory care units and Alzheimer’s care facilities, 24/7 supervised care is provided by staff extensively trained in dementia care.

Emphasis is placed on creating a safe and secure living environment for residents with progressive cognitive impairments. Memory care facilities are structured to establish a safe and predictable setting with consistent routines aimed at reducing stress for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Staff members handle meal preparation and assist with personal care tasks similar to those in traditional assisted living facilities. However, in memory care, residents receive increased supervision along with activities designed to stimulate memory. These measures contribute to minimizing confusion while promoting safety and engagement among residents.

Memory care services often include:

  • A lower staff-to-resident ratio
  • 24-hour supervised care
  • Specially trained nursing staff, including certified dementia practitioners
  • Structured layouts and activities
  • Emergency call systems
  • Cognitive treatments and therapies
  • Additional housekeeping services
  • Advanced nursing care options
  • Dietary support
  • Social work services
  • Peer support groups for family members

What is Assisted Living?

While residents of assisted living facilities may receive some support with daily activities, they still live independently. Services for assisted living residents are designed to foster a supportive and engaging environment that enables them to maintain their independence while receiving the necessary assistance to enhance their quality of life. Often, you will find that retirement communities also provide assisted living with memory care services to care for those with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of early-stage dementia, as long as the individual does not require intensive support or treatment for serious medical problems. These services typically include:

  • Assistance with meals
  • Medication management
  • Help bathing and dressing
  • Mobility
  • Housekeeping
  • Special transportation

Memory Care vs Assisted Living: Lifestyle Differences

What is the best fit for you or your loved one? Explore the lifestyle differences memory care and assisted living facilities offer to residents in terms of the living environment, meal plans, and price.


In assisted living communities, apartments or rooms typically include a kitchen or kitchenette for residents’ convenience. However, in memory care units, kitchens are often omitted for safety considerations. Additionally, memory care units may incorporate specially designed environmental elements, such as:

  • Larger windows to allow more natural light
  • Calming colors
  • Inviting communal spaces

Meal Plans

Both assisted living and memory care facilities offer three meals per day along with snacks. Because choice is important, menu options are typically offered in both types of residences, catering to residents’ specialized dietary needs and restrictions.

For both assisted living and memory care residents, extra special care is taken to ensure they are getting the nutrition they need. For example, if handing silverware is difficult, a diet may consist of as much finger food as possible. Meals are also plated differently for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Foods are usually colorful (ex: chicken with brown gravy, yellow corn, white potatoes) to aid in distinguishing between food items on their plates.

The Price Difference

Because memory care provides residents with an extra level of supervision, more specialized nursing care and additional staff services, you will find the fees are higher than for assisted living. Costs will vary by location facility, and type of living space (private vs. shared).

Memory Care vs Assisted Living: Staffing Differences

Special training, a higher level of care, and a lower staff-to-patient ratio all set apart the staffing of memory care units from that of traditional assisted living facilities. Learn about some of the key differences to decide what level of support best aligns with your or your loved one’s physical and emotional needs.

STNA, Skilled Nursing Care

Skilled nursing homes usually offer an environment similar to a hospital where the residents can receive medical services from licensed nurses, physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and audiologists. The main difference between a skilled nursing home and other traditional care facilities are:

  • 24-hour supervision
  • Occupational therapy
  • Counseling
  • Customized meal plans
  • Help with routine chores
  • Group activities

Certified Dementia Care Practitioners

Special Training
In assisted living communities, staff are trained to help residents with activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing and moving around the community. Staff in memory care units receive special training to address how dementia causes specific behaviors and how to respond and communicate with people with memory issues. All staff members who work in memory care communities — from administration to housekeeping – are required by most states to attend continuing education courses, covering a range of curriculum empathy activities suitable for those with memory loss to the science of dementia.

Staff-to-Patient Ratio
Regulations and mandates regarding staff-to-patient ratio are governed by the state or the assisted living or memory care community. But for memory care units, an ideal ratio is one staff member per five residents.

Memory Care vs Assisted Living: Security Difference

Within memory care facilities, you will find enhanced security and controlled access points aimed at preventing wandering, a frequent occurrence among individuals with dementia. These safety protocols often extend to secure outdoor spaces, utilization of tracking bracelets to notify staff of proximity to exits, and routine safety checks.

Memory Care vs Assisted Living: Activity Differences

Assisted living communities typically offer a wide range of activities and events, providing residents with ample choices for hobbies and interests. In contrast, activities and programs in memory care are carefully crafted to engage residents without exacerbating anxiety, a common symptom of dementia. Routine scheduling is prioritized in memory care to instill a sense of comfort and security among residents.

The following are activities focused on memory care:

  • Exercise – Offers a number of benefits for both body and mind.
  • Arts and crafts – Promotes and maintains creativity and self-expression.
  • Brain fitness – Puzzles and games stimulate cognitive function.
  • Music therapy – Lowers agitation and improves memory.

Memory Care Vs. Assisted Living: Differences in Memory Care Services

Many assisted living facilities, like Copland Oaks, offer memory care as part of a suite of available services — often called continuing care retirement communities or life plan communities. Even if your loved one does not require memory care, you may want to consider selecting an assisted living facility that provides it — often needs change as seniors age and additional support may be required in the future. Easing the transition from assisted living to memory care can also be a smoother process in communities that offer both assisted living and memory care.

Because assisted living and memory care communities are similar, seniors transitioning from independent living to memory care have access to all the advantages of a senior living community:

  • 24-hour full-time staff members, meals
  • A calendar of activities
  • Assistance with activities of daily living

If your loved one is experiencing frequent confusion, depression, or struggles to manage daily life despite the support of assisted living, it may be the right time to consider transitioning to memory care. Memory care offers specialized care tailored to both the physical and mental needs of your loved one, leading to significant improvements in their overall well-being. Memory care environments and care options, like you’ll find at Copeland Oaks, are carefully and thoughtfully designed to provide compassionate assistance to seniors dealing with memory loss diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

If you are interested in learning more about Assisted Living & Memory Care – contact Copeland Oaks to learn more about our living options and schedule a tour.