When to Move From Assisted Living to Memory Care

A Guide to Understanding the Signs That It’s Time for Memory Care

taylor shuman Taylor Shuman Senior Tech Expert & Editor

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Memory lapses happen to the best of us. After all, who hasn’t misplaced their keys at least a thousand times? So, it’s understandable that you might not notice when a loved one is starting to struggle with memory loss.

Conditions that affect memory, such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, tend to progress slowly. If your loved one lives in assisted living, staff may notice their changing needs before you do. It may be hard to accept, no matter who notices first.

If you’re wondering if a move from assisted living to a memory care facility makes sense for your parent, read on. In this article, we’ll outline the differences between memory care and assisted living. We’ll also provide information about signs that indicate when this type of change is warranted. Lastly, we’ll discuss memory care facility costs, so you can best prepare.

What Is the Difference Between Memory Care and Assisted Living?

Transitioning to memory care

Assisted living and memory care facilities are both designed to be long-term living solutions. In fact, many assisted living facilities have designated memory care wings, where residents may move, should the need arise.

Safety, security, and socialization are provided at both types of residences. There are, however, key differences between assisted living and memory care facilities.

What’s Life Like in Assisted Living?

Assisted living is geared toward supporting the needs of fairly independent older adults who need a little help with activities of daily living (ADLs). For example, your parent may enjoy dancing and playing word games, but they need support with medication management or personal hygiene.

People in assisted living benefit from socialization opportunities, health and wellness activities, and help with household and personal management. They may share a room with another resident, or have a private apartment of their own with a kitchen.

Round-the-clock supervision may be available, but is not necessarily needed 24/7. Emergency help is always available, but medical staff may not be on the premises at all times.

What’s Life Like In Memory Care?

Many of the “perks” of assisted living, such as socializing, are also part of life in memory care facilities. However, many of the activities offered are therapeutic, and geared towards supporting brain health.

Supervision and security is available 24/7. One of the concerns you may have for your parent is that they’ll wander off and get lost accidentally. Memory care facilities are equipped with safeguards and safety features that prohibit this from happening.

The floorplans in memory care facilities also differ from assisted living. They may feature color-coded floors or walls and other features that reduce wandering and lessen confusion.

Memory care facilities have a higher staff-to-resident ratio, so there are always enough hands on deck during daytime and nighttime hours.

The staff also undergoes specialized training in dementia care, so they’ll know how to handle potentially stressful situations. They work to create a peaceful, calm environment that is soothing and stress-free for residents. They may also take on tasks that are not part of the day-to-day responsibilities of assisted living personnel. These vary from facility to facility, but often include:

  • Support with personal hygiene, such as bathing, shaving, and foot care
  •  Incontinence care
  • Encouraging residents to eat, and cutting their food if needed

Staff members and onsite or visiting therapists are available to oversee personalized and group activities that provide brain and memory stimulation. These may include:

  • Music therapy
  • Arts and crafts
  • Puzzles and cognitive games
  • Animal-assisted (pet) therapy
Did You Know?

Did You Know? Musical memory is stored throughout the brain. Music therapy taps into these memories, improving mood, cognition, behavior, and mobility in older adults with dementia.1

20 Signs It’s Time to Move From Assisted Living to Memory Care

Memory Care Puzzle

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, memory loss that disrupts daily life can be a sign of dementia.2That may sound clearcut, but these changes aren’t always obvious. Oftentimes, people with memory loss go to great lengths to hide it, especially during its early stages. You may also think that these changes are simply a natural part of aging.

Memory loss can make your loved one less safe. These signs may indicate that a move from assisted living to memory care makes sense:

  1. Forgetting recently learned information, like the birth of a new grandchild
  2. Forgetting important, long-known information like their own birthday or their spouse’s name
  3. Difficulties with concentration
  4. Taking a long time to complete a familiar task, like scrambling eggs or brushing their teeth
  5. Leaving a gas burner or stove on
  6. Forgetting what year or season it is
  7. Thinking they’re a different age or at a different stage of life. For example, they may think that their own parents are still alive.
  8. Trouble engaging in conversations or social situations
  9. Changes in hygiene, such as not bathing, shaving, or brushing their hair
  1. Troubling with toileting and cleaning up after toileting
  2. Forgetting to eat
  3. Wearing mismatched clothing
  4. Problems with decision making
  5. Showing poor judgment, especially if it may lead to dangerous situations
  6. Personality or mood changes, such as agitation, violent behavior, or depression
  7. Withdrawal from activities of daily life
  8. Lack of interest in cherished hobbies or events they used to look forward to
  9. Wandering off or becoming lost
  10. Showing signs of elopement, such as packing their things and trying to leave the assisted living facility
  11. Having bruises they can’t explain
Did You Know?

Did You Know? Hearing loss reduces stimulation to the brain and can accelerate dementia.3 If you think your loved one is struggling with their hearing, make sure they receive an audiological exam and check out our list of the best hearing aids in 2024.

Tips for Making the Transition from Assisted Living to Memory Care Easier

Talking with your loved one

Making this change can be challenging for both you and your parent. As a first step, lean into your relationship with the assisted living staff and management. If you’re planning on moving your loved one to the memory care branch of their current facility, management will provide boots-on-the-ground help with logistics. If you’re leaving the community, they should also be able to provide support and guidance.

Logistical Tips

  • States require different types of documentation for this transition. Make sure you know what the legal requirements are in your state for memory care placement.
  • Documentation from your parent’s doctor about their need for a more restrictive, secured environment may be required. Cognition and other types of tests may also be needed.
  • If you’re changing facilities, visit several so you can determine which feels like the best fit. Interview staff and management to get a firm sense of how they handle day-to-day life and emergencies.
  • Review the admissions agreement so you completely understand the responsibilities both you and the facility have. These will include financial arrangements and communications. If necessary, have your legal representative review the document.

How to Prepare Your Loved One

  • Talk to your parent’s doctor about their medications prior to moving day. Ask if adding an anti-anxiety drug for the day makes sense, or if increasing the dosage of a medication they already take should be done.
  • Prepare their room in advance with familiar items that are comforting. These may include photos, stuffed animals, and other types of memorabilia.
  • It may seem counterintuitive, but don’t tell your parent about the move too far in advance. This may cause them undue anxiety or fear. If possible, wait until the move is occurring to let them know.
  • Ask the staff if they can oversee some type of special event for when your parent arrives. This can be simple, such as a luncheon or a shared group craft session. Simple is fine, as long as it includes some level of socialization and fun.
  • If your parent asks, don’t let them know that this will be their long-term home. This may feel uncomfortable, but keep in mind that it’s a strategy, not a betrayal. Consider referring to their new placement as a temporary vacation. Let the staff know the wording you’re using, so they don’t inadvertently contradict you.
Been There Done That Tip:

Been There Done That Tip: Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. Caregiver burnout can affect your physical and mental health as well as your quality of life.4 If it’s all on you, look for ways to reduce stress such as yoga, meditation, or time with friends.

Cost of Memory Care vs. Assisted Living

In general, memory care facilities cost more than assisted living. The added costs are typically based on the level of services, amount of personnel, and staff training required.

Assisted living and memory care costs vary by state and region. Prices are also not uniform between facilities. Differences in services, aesthetics, and other factors may all affect costs.

In general, these ballpark figures for 2024 can give you a sense of the costs to expect:

Medicare does not cover the cost of assisted living or memory care facilities. It will, however, cover medical expenses that are incurred, either on or off site.5 These include durable medical equipment, doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and specialty tests like MRIs. Medications are covered under Medicare Part D.

Medicaid coverage for memory care and assisted living varies by state. So do their eligibility requirements. In most cases, you’ll find that memory care is covered by Institutional Medicaid, if your loved one lives in a Medicaid-Certified Nursing Facility. Dedicated memory care facilities and memory care wings in assisted living are typically not covered under this type of plan.6 Medicaid offers Home and Community-Based Services waivers in many states that provide coverage for memory care in other types of facilities, including assisted living.

Keep in mind, not every facility accepts Medicaid. Make sure to find out if this is an option you can use. If your loved one isn’t eligible for Medicaid, you may explore other ways of paying for memory care. These include:

How to Find Memory Care Near Me

If you’re looking for memory care, your personal and professional contacts may be a good place to start. Your parent’s medical team and other health care professionals can also be excellent resources for ideas. Our senior living directory can also help you find and compare options in your area.

Written By:
Taylor Shuman
Senior Tech Expert & Editor
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As SeniorLiving.org’s tech expert and editor, Taylor has years of experience reviewing products and services for seniors. She is passionate about breaking down stigmas related to seniors and technology. She loves finding innovative ways to teach seniors about products and… Learn More About Taylor Shuman
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