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Assisted Living vs. Memory Care

When it’s time for your loved one to move to a residential community, someone unfamiliar with senior care may think the terms “assisted living” and “memory care” are interchangeable. But they’re actually two distinct, yet related, types of senior living.

The Difference Between Assisted Living and Memory Care

Assisted living is just what the name implies: support to help a senior enjoy the best life possible within a community of older adults. This means assistance with what are known as “activities of daily living”, or ADL. Some of the services an assisted living community typically provides include:

  • Assistance with ADL (bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, etc.)
  • Housekeeping
  • Laundry
  • Medication reminders
  • Meals
  • Social activities
  • Transportation
  • Health services
  • Wellness programs

The living arrangements in an assisted living facility can vary widely, from individual apartments to private or shared rooms. Most assisted living communities offer partially or fully furnished living spaces, and encourage residents to bring cherished items when they move in, to help make their new environment feel cozy and familiar.

Although assisted living communities were originally developed as an option midway between independent living and nursing home care, the senior living field is rapidly evolving as the aging population continues to spiral upward.

Today, many assisted living communities are able to accommodate people needing higher levels of care, while nursing homes are transforming into facilities for rehabilitation after an extensive hospital stay.

While assisted living aims to help residents continue to live with as much freedom as practical, memory care facilities must take a somewhat different approach, by providing secure, expert care for people in various stages of memory loss. The emphasis shifts from helping a senior remain self-directed, to providing professional care for those with cognitive decline.

In a memory care community, the focus is on:

  • Safety
  • Keeping residents calm, since sensory overstimulation can trigger agitation
  • Specialized nutrition to address changing health needs
  • Activities that help residents remain engaged and support brain health.

Some senior living communities offer a “continuum of care”, enabling residents to transition from assisted living to a memory care wing or separate memory care unit if they begin to exhibit signs of cognitive impairment.

How Do I Know If I Need Memory Care?

At one time or another, all of us experience reaching for a word, or forgetting someone’s name (or where we put the car keys). This is considered normal, age-related memory loss.

However, the warning signs of dementia are more pervasive and severe than temporary memory loss. These include:

  • Problems with language, such as being unable to recall the word “toothbrush” and asking for “that thing for my mouth”
  • Place disorientation, such as being unable to find your own house
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks, like following a recipe you’ve used for years
  • Odd placement of objects, such as putting those car keys in the freezer
  • Poor judgment: for example, wearing an overcoat on a hot summer day.
  • Unwillingness to engage with others: preferring to sleep or watch TV.

If a senior is exhibiting a number of memory loss warning signs, the first step is a complete medical examination. Many conditions can create cognitive confusion in the elderly, including medication interactions, a urinary tract infection, poor diet, or substance abuse.

Bottom line: if a senior is experiencing issues that compromise his or her safety, health, behavior, or social engagement, they may benefit from being in a quality memory care environment with compassionate care providers who can greatly enrich their living situation.

Is Memory Care More Expensive Than Assisted Living?

The question of cost is a bit tricky. Although neither assisted living nor memory care is inexpensive, memory care is generally more cost-effective than aging in place with home health assistance.

The cost of a home health aide, plus home modifications to make the home safe and senior-friendly for someone with dementia, can easily exceed what it would cost to live in a memory care community, where all of these factors, plus home maintenance and housekeeping, are part of the cost.

In terms of comparing memory care costs with those of assisted living, it’s important to understand that dementia is a progressive condition. While life expectancy overall is on the rise and increases the longer someone remains healthy, dementia creates a compressed life expectancy of as much as 50-75 percent. Depending on the type of dementia, someone may live five to twelve years, on average, after diagnosis.

Therefore, it is likely that the cost of living in a memory care facility will work out to be less expensive than assisted living, due to a shortened lifespan.

The Glen Park Difference

At Glen Park Healthy Living, we’ve been providing enhanced assisted living, memory care, and end-of-life care for almost 30 years. As pioneers of palliative care in the Los Angeles area, our unique, full-service approach enables residents in each of our five communities to live their later years in comfort, safety, and enjoyment.

We look forward to welcoming you home to Glen Park Healthy Living.

Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

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