Nurse pushing old man in wheelchair

Memory Care vs Assisted Living

About Memory Care

Memory care is a special type of assisted living arrangement that’s designed to provide a greater level of care for seniors living with some form of dementia. Also called special care units, memory care offers residential long-term skilled nursing – focus specifically on patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Memory care units offer 24/7 supervised care, provided by staff who are specifically trained to care for people with dementia. 

Special care is taken to provide a safe living environment for residents with progressive cognitive impairments. Memory care is designed to create a safe, structured environment with set routines to lower stress for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Staff cook meals and help residents with personal care tasks, just like the staff at an assisted living facility. But memory care residents receive increased supervision, plus activities intended to help stimulate memory. These aspects help to reduce confusion and keep residents safe and engaged.

Memory care services often include:

  • A lower staff-to-resident ratio
  • 24-hour supervised care
  • Specially trained nursing staff, including certified dimension 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

About Assisted Living

While residents of assisted living facilities may receive a little help with daily activities, they still live independently. Often, you will find that assisted living communities also provide 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
  • Special transportation

Lifestyle Differences


Apartments or rooms in assisted living communities usually feature a kitchen or kitchenette, while memory care units don’t – for safety reasons. You may also find specially-designed environmental elements in memory care units – including:

  • Larger windows allowing more natural light
  • Calming colors
  • Inviting communal spaces

Meal Plans

Both assisted living and memory care facilities offer three meals a day – plus snacks! Because choice is important, menu options are typically offered in both types of residences. 

For both our 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. They are usually colorful (ex: chicken with brown gravy, yellow corn, white potatoes) to help seniors distinguish between items on their plate. 

The Cost Difference

Because memory care involves 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).

Staffing Differences 

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 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.

Security Difference

Within memory care facilities, you will find enhanced security and controlled access points to prevent wandering – a common behavior among people with dementia. These safety measures may also include secure outside areas, tracking bracelets to alert staff if a resident is too close to an exit and regular safety check.

Memory Care Focused Activities vs Assisted Living Activities

Assisted living communities typically offer a wide range of activities and events. But in memory care, activities and programs are designed to engage residents without contributing to anxiety – a common symptom of dementia. And routine scheduling offers a sense of comfort and security.

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.

Assisted Living with Memory Care & Traditional Memory Care

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 yet require memory care, you may want to consider selecting an assisted living facility that provides it – especially if there’s always the chance that they may require the support 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 regularly confused, depressed, or has stopped managing their life, even with the help of assisted living, it may be time to make the transition. Memory care can provide significant improvements to your loved one’s experience with care tailored to both their physical and mental needs. Memory care environments and care options, like you’ll find at Copeland Oaks, are carefully and thoughtfully developed to assist seniors with a memory loss disease, like 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 even schedule a tour.