What is a Memory Care Facility?

Memory care is a type of long-term care geared toward those living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of progressive-degenerative dementia. People who require a higher level of support than what is offered in assisted living, or who have advanced dementia that makes it unsafe to remain at home, may find that memory care is their best long-term care option.

While nursing homes provide 24/7 skilled nursing care, memory care facilities offer a safe, structured environment that’s specially designed to protect residents against wandering and self-harm. Memory care residents are generally free of any major health concerns aside from Alzheimer’s or dementia, but they can no longer safely live in their own homes.

What Services Are Provided in Memory Care Facilities?

Most memory care communities offer the same services found in an assisted living setting, such as:

  • Semiprivate or private accommodations in an apartment-style suite with an en suite bathroom
  • Three daily meals served restaurant-style, plus snacks and beverages throughout the day
  • Housekeeping, personal laundry and linen services
  • Daily social and recreational activities, such as fitness classes, organized games, Bible study groups and escorted day trips
  • In-house medical alert systems
  • Some assistance with activities of daily living, including dressing, grooming and transferring

In addition to the services provided at most assisted living facilities, memory care communities also offer:

  • Daily group and individual therapeutic recreational programming, such as brain games that are specifically designed to slow the progression of memory loss
  • 24/7 security
  • Anti-wandering systems such as WanderGuard, a wireless wearable tracking device that lets caregivers monitor the exact location of each resident
  • A relatively low staff-to-resident ratio
  • Help with activities of daily living
  • Family support groups

Each memory care facility offers its own unique range of services. Some offer enhanced services including on-site physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, on-site physician’s services and escorts to local medical appointments.

How Does Memory Care Compare to Other Types of Long-Term Care?

Memory care is similar to assisted living in that it’s considered to be noninstitutional care, while nursing homes are institutional. While memory care programs are often co-located within assisted living facilities, there are some distinct differences in the environment, staffing and recreational programming offered within memory care units.

This chart highlights the similarities and differences between residential memory care and other types of long-term care.

Memory Care Assisted Living Nursing Home In-Home Care Adult Day Health Care
Room and board Yes Yes Yes No No – usually includes lunch and snacks
Skilled nursing care Limited No Yes No No
Medication administration Yes (depending on location/facility) No Yes Assistance limited to self-administration of medications Assistance limited to self-administration of medications
Anti-wandering systems/security features Yes No No No No
Low staff-to-client ratio Yes No Yes Yes No
Specially designed environment for those with dementia Yes No No No No, unless program is geared towards participants with memory loss
State licensed and inspected Yes Yes Yes No Depends on the program/location
Daily therapeutic recreational programming Yes No No No Yes
Staffed by caregivers who specialize in memory care Yes No No No No, except for memory care programs

What Are Memory Care Facilities Like?

Memory care facilities look and feel much like a regular assisted living community or retirement home.

Most memory care communities have one or more dining rooms where residents eat their meals, as well as multiple common areas, such as lounges, game rooms, fitness centers and activity rooms. There’s often one or more enclosed courtyards, and/or a secure outdoor space with walking paths, resident gardens and seating.

Resident accommodations may include studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments equipped with barrier-free bathrooms, small kitchenettes and an emergency call system that instantly connects with on-site caregivers.

In order to keep residents safe, memory care facilities often have enhanced security features, such as motion-activated lights, cameras and alarms; delayed-egress exit doors; digital locks on exterior doors and 24/7 on-site security staff.

Many purpose-built memory care communities are designed with curved walls to reduce confusion and disorientation among residents. Other memory-enhancing features include memory boxes placed outside each suite. These boxes contain small personal items to help residents remember which room is theirs. Memory care units may also be painted with muted colors and feature soft lighting to minimize overstimulation and reduce agitation among those living with dementia.

What Kind of Staffing and Certification Requirements Apply To Memory Care Facilities?

Memory care facilities are regulated at the state level, therefore, the staffing and certification requirements vary throughout the country.

In general, most states require that any facility offering memory care services holds a state long-term care license. In order to fulfill licensing requirements, memory care communities must pass health and safety inspections and have a designated administrator who spends at least 40 hours on-site each week and is trained in long-term care.

Many states have adult protection laws that mandate extensive background checks for anyone who provides direct care to vulnerable adults, including caregivers who work in memory care facilities. Other common staffing and certification requirements include:

  • First aid and CPR certification for all direct care staff
  • Staff who administer medications must either be licensed medical professionals, or work under the direct supervision of a registered nurse
  • Direct care staff must test negative for tuberculosis (TB)
  • Staff needs to complete a comprehensive orientation session that includes training specific to memory care prior to commencing direct care duties
  • Staff and administrators must complete ongoing annual training in supporting individuals who live with memory loss