Making The Right Long-Term Care Choice For Elders With Dementia: Memory Care vs. Assisted Living

Right now in the United States more than 5.8 million Americans have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s according to the Alzheimer’s Association. If you are reading this article, it’s likely that somebody in your family (perhaps an aging parent, spouse, or sibling) has dementia, or perhaps you have received this diagnosis yourself.

While many seniors with dementia can live at home comfortably with the care of family members during the early stages of the disease, care becomes more and more difficult as the disease progresses. You may now be at the point when you can no longer handle the care needs of your loved one.

As you begin to look at professional care options, you will likely come across two main choices:

  • Assisted living facilities
  • Memory care facilities (also known as Special Care Units, or SCUs)

Which option is better for your loved one? We think that anyone suffering from dementia would be the most comfortable and safest in a facility that specializes in memory care. We’ll discuss the reasons why, but first, let’s just briefly look at the differences between assisted living facilities and memory care facilities.

Assisted Living Facilities

Assisted living facilities provide housing, meals, and activities for seniors who are active but who can no longer live independently. Maybe they need help dressing in the morning, have mobility challenges, or need assistance with diabetes care. Assisted living facilities provide care and oversight while also giving residents privacy and a level of freedom and autonomy. In many cases, the seniors live in private or semi-private rooms within a community that provides group meals and activities.

Assisted living facilities provide more freedom than nursing homes and more oversight than independent senior communities. They are exploding with popularity all across the United States! Some assisted living facilities also provide a special unit or wing devoted to memory care for residents with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Memory Care Facilities

Basically, a memory care facility is an assisted living facility that specializes in caring for residents with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Rather than dedicating a specific unit or wing of the facility to dementia care, the entire facility is focused in this one area. Typically, all residents of a memory care facility suffer from some form of dementia and all staff members are specially trained to deal compassionately with all the symptoms of dementia.

Like an assisted living facility, a memory care facility provides meals, entertainment, activities, and supervision of residents. Residents live in home-like environments in private or semi-private rooms.

The Benefits of Memory Care Facilities

An assisted living facility isn’t necessarily a bad choice for someone with dementia, especially if the facility has a dementia unit. However, we believe a dementia care facility is the best option. This type of facility has been designed specifically for the needs of dementia patients, and the staff is specially trained to deal with the many challenges that dementia presents, including:

  • Mood swings
  • Confusion and paranoia
  • Wandering
  • Poor decision making
  • Aggressive or uninhibited behavior
  • Mobility and coordination issues
  • Incontinence
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Need for intensive support in later stages of the disease

A dementia care facility, like Sunshine Care in Poway, California, is designed to help seniors with dementia feel that they are in a safe, comfortable, and homey environment. At Sunshine Care, for example, we recently opened a state-of-the-art 24-bed community designed by an internationally-known gerontologist. The facility is built on one level with no way-finding issues to give seniors the freedom to move around our gorgeous, garden-filled campus without getting lost or confused. Our staff is also always on hand to provide supervision and support when needed.

An assisted living facility probably wasn’t built with memory care residents in mind, and the staff may not have the knowledge and training to deal most effectively with all the challenges that dementia residents present.

We think – why not choose a facility that has been specifically designed to treat and support your loved one? If your loved one is located in San Diego, San Diego County, Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Escondido, San Marcos, or North County, we invite you to visit our beautiful and vibrant memory care facility. We’d be happy to give you a tour of Sunshine Care and answer any questions you have about memory care facilities versus assisted living facilities.


Need Caregiver Support? For more information on our monthly San Diego Memory Care support group visit, or call the toll-free number at 1-800-811-9595.


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Categories: Memory Care

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3 replies

  1. It’s interesting to know that there’s a facility that specializes on providing the needs of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Loved ones of Alzheimer’s patients should definitely look into memory care facilities and thanks to your article for explaining what it is and its advantages. Because of that, we featured it in our Weekly Digest. You can read it here

  2. Useful articles that can help families of people suffering from this chronic illness. I reblogged this article on intended to help baby boomers who are succumbing to the disease 🙂

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