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What Is Memory Care? Understanding Benefits, Services, and Costs

Written by Claire Samuels
 about the author
11 minute readLast updated March 7, 2023

Memory care provides long-term housing and support for seniors with dementia or cognitive decline. This type of care helps people age safely in a residential environment that caters to their individual needs. In a memory care community, your loved one can expect personalized care, engaging activities and therapies designed to help slow cognitive decline, and a variety of amenities, including nutritious meals, housekeeping services, and communal spaces that foster social interaction.

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What are some benefits of memory care?

Memory care communities are designed to support the individual needs of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. These supportive environments help residents maintain their independence and skills as they age while offering therapies and activities designed to slow cognitive decline.
In a memory care community, your loved one can benefit from:
  • Person-centered care. Memory care staff work closely with families and individuals to learn what’s important to each resident. They use personal interests and histories to inform your loved one’s care.
  • Access to specially trained staff. Staff in memory care communities are well-versed in assisting seniors with dementia. People with cognitive decline often have needs that other seniors don’t, and memory care staff address those needs with understanding and compassion.
  • A secure environment. Wandering is a common yet dangerous dementia behavior. Memory care communities are often designed with enclosed courtyards, easy-to-navigate hallways, and secured entries and exits to keep residents safe.
  • Cognitive therapies. Residents can benefit from therapies crafted to engage the senses and stimulate cognition. Reminiscence therapy evokes positive recollection, while art and music therapies allow seniors to express themselves creatively.
  • 24-hour supervision. Memory care communities have staff available around the clock to help your loved one with activities of daily living (ADLs), cognitive support, and health needs.
  • Low staff-to-resident ratios. Many memory care residents require personalized assistance and attention. Low staff-to-resident ratios facilitate 1-to-1 interaction and communication with dementia patients.

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What services does memory care provide?

An illustration of a woman with a walker and a list of services offered in memory care.
Memory care communities offer a wide variety of activities and services, depending on your loved one’s interests and care needs. Like other types of senior living, housing and meals are included. However, memory care communities also offer the following support services for seniors with dementia or cognitive decline.

Help with activities of daily living

Memory care communities offer assistance with activities of daily living, including dressing, bathing, toileting, and personal grooming. Staff members are uniquely trained and qualified to assist seniors with dementia. They attend to these tasks with compassion and respect while maintaining residents’ independence as much as possible.

Memory-specific activities

Staying active can help keep the mind sharp and slow cognitive decline. Activities for dementia patients, such as games, movie nights, crafts, and live entertainment, are designed to foster engagement and reduce social isolation.
Since people in memory care communities experience varying levels of dementia, events and activities are tailored to accommodate a range of cognitive and physical abilities. For example, a senior with early-stage dementia may enjoy a complex craft project that involves gluing or painting, while a resident with late-stage dementia may be more comfortable arranging colored paper or drawing.

Medication management

Seniors with dementia may have difficulty remembering to take their medicine. Since medication regimens often become more complex with age, forgetting a certain drug, or taking too much, may lead to serious health consequences. Medication management services in memory care communities vary from state to state, but staff will either remind residents to take their meds independently or actively administer medications.

Care coordination

Memory care communities work closely with families and medical providers to coordinate plans of care that include doctor’s appointments, therapies, dietary needs, and more. Staff members regularly reassess the care needs of residents and communicate these changes to their loved ones.

On-site supportive therapies

Communities generally offer medically-adjacent therapies, such as speech, occupational, and physical therapy. They may also encourage sensory therapies, like art, music, reminiscence, and pet therapies.

Restaurant-style dining programs

Memory care communities generally offer three meals a day plus snacks. Menus are designed to support each resident’s dietary needs and preferences, and communities use dining as an opportunity to promote independence. Adaptive utensils, soft or pureed options, feeding assistance, and finger foods may be available for seniors at mealtimes.

Mobility assistance

Memory care communities often have unique layouts to support mobility and independence. With wide hallways, no-transition thresholds between rooms, safety features such as grab bars, and secured indoor and outdoor spaces, these communities are designed to accommodate residents of all levels of mobility. Trained staff members can also assist residents with more significant mobility limitations.

Transportation services

Communities provide transportation to nearby medical appointments, group outings, religious services, and events. These outings are generally included in the cost of memory care, but additional transportation may be available for an extra fee.

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Is memory care right for your loved one?

Memory care is designed to support seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. People with dementia may experience difficulty with memory, language, problem-solving, and other daily functions.
Dementia isn’t a normal part of aging — it’s a group of disorders caused by changes to the makeup of the brain that lead to cognitive decline. These changes can affect behaviors, emotions, and relationships.
If your loved one has dementia, a memory care community can help manage the progressive symptoms of their condition in a safe, supportive environment.

When is it time for memory care?

As your loved one’s dementia progresses, it may become more difficult to provide the support they need without additional assistance. A memory care community can offer your family peace of mind while attending to your relative’s care needs.
Some signs it might be time for memory care include the following:
  • Changes in behavior, such as aggression, agitation, and irritability
  • Wandering, which can lead to potentially dangerous falls
  • Significant sleep concerns
  • Difficulty performing ADLs
  • Unsafe usage of household appliances, like the stove
  • Inability to properly manage medications
  • Increased isolation or social withdrawal
  • Decline in physical health
  • Hallucinations or delusions
Keep in mind that memory care can be beneficial for you as well as your loved one. A safe, engaging memory care environment can prevent caregiver burnout, which can develop while caring for a relative with dementia at home.

Are there admission requirements for memory care?

The most basic requirement for admittance to a memory care community is a dementia diagnosis. After you begin to notice potential dementia symptoms, your loved one’s doctor may perform a series of tests to determine their level of cognitive decline. The doctor can make a diagnosis and work with you to better understand your loved one’s individual situation.
While entry requirements vary from community to community, many memory care facilities establish basic guidelines for admittance. A resident may be required to need assistance with a certain number of ADLs, or they may need to undergo a functional assessment conducted by community staff. On the other hand, some communities only provide a certain level of care. Therefore, they may require potential residents to be able to eat independently or to transfer from a bed to a wheelchair on their own.

How much does memory care cost?

The monthly median cost of memory care and cost-related factors.
Memory care costs vary significantly from one community to the next. Factors that may affect the cost include geographic location, community amenities, activities offered, apartment floorplans, and the level of care your loved one needs.
Pricing structures can also affect the cost of memory care. Some communities are all-inclusive, with a single monthly payment covering lodging, housekeeping, activities, dining, and more. Other communities price services a la carte based on each senior’s individual needs. Services like medication management, transportation, and assistance with certain ADLs may be added to a base monthly rent.
The national median cost of memory care communities in the United States is $5,430 a month, according to A Place for Mom’s most recent cost of care analysis. A median describes a mid-point cost, rather than an average. So, while some communities cost significantly more or less per month, this figure offers a general sense of typical memory care costs.

How do you pay for memory care?

The majority of families cover the cost of memory care with personal assets and savings. Once you determine that memory care is the right choice for your loved one, work out a budget and plan to finance their care. Financial circumstances vary from family to family, but there are several options that can help you pay for care.
  • Veterans benefits. If your loved one or their spouse is eligible to benefit from the VA Aid and Attendance program, they may receive supplemental income to help pay for memory care.
  • Long-term care insurance. Your loved one might have invested in long-term care insurance as they neared retirement age. Depending on the policy, this type of insurance may cover memory care services.
  • Home equity. If your loved one owns their home, you may be able to rent or sell it and use the proceeds to pay for their care. A reverse mortgage may be another option for a couple with only one spouse who needs memory care.
  • Life insurance. Some life insurance policies can be sold to a third party for a lump sum. Others may offer an accelerated death benefit, a tax-free advance on death benefits for an insured person who is chronically ill and has a limited life expectancy.
  • Bridge loans. While you liquidate assets or work toward selling your loved one’s home, short-term bridge loans can help cover memory care.

Does insurance cover the cost of memory care?

Most insurance policies won’t cover custodial — or nonmedical — care costs. This means that assistance with ADLs such as bathing and dressing, supervision in a memory care community, wandering prevention, and memory-supportive activities are generally not covered by insurance. However, insurance providers may cover related medical costs, depending on your loved one’s policy and needs.

Does Medicare pay for memory care?

Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of living in a memory care community, but it might cover some of a loved one’s associated medical costs. For example, memory care unit rental isn’t covered by Medicare, but some cognitive assessments and prescription medications to delay cognitive decline are. Similarly, assistance with ADLs is not paid for by Medicare, but certain medical services provided within communities, like physician-prescribed physical therapy, may be.

Does private insurance cover the cost of memory care?

Like Medicare, private insurance policies may cover some medical costs associated with memory care and a dementia diagnosis, but they generally won’t pay for lodging, dining, or assistance with activities of daily living. Private-pay disability insurance may also cover related medical costs.

Does Medicaid cover memory care?

Medicaid beneficiaries may be eligible for institutional care in a memory care facility. However, the memory care community must be licensed and certified as a Medicaid-sponsored facility.
Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides health coverage to seniors who qualify financially due to limited income or resources. Eligibility requirements and coverage vary from state to state.

How can you find the right memory care community for your loved one?

As you begin your search for memory care, consider your loved one’s unique interests and needs. Amenities and services vary, so it’s important to find a community that fits their preferences as well as their care needs.
After ensuring a community fits their budget and location, keep the following questions in mind:
  • How much ADL assistance does your loved one need?
  • Do they have any dietary restrictions or food preferences?
  • What type of apartment are they looking for? Do they want something spacious or cozy?
  • What are their favorite social and recreational activities?
  • Do they need transportation to specific appointments or events?
  • Would they prefer a small, homelike community, or a larger, more vibrant setting?
  • Are there any amenities they wish to prioritize, like a community garden or a swimming pool?
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of prospective communities, get a true sense of daily life there by planning a visit with your loved one. You can witness the resident experience firsthand, sit down for a meal, participate in activities, and get a good sense of staff and resident interactions.
Our Senior Care Advisors can help guide your family as you search for the right memory care fit. They’ll answer any questions you may have, discuss your loved one’s budget and needs, and help establish tours with local communities, all at no cost to you.


Meet the Author
Claire Samuels

Claire Samuels is a senior copywriter at OurParents, where she helps guide families through the dementia and memory care journey. Before transitioning to writing, she gained industry insight as an account executive for senior living communities across the Midwest. She holds a degree from Davidson College.

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