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Memory Care vs. Assisted Living: What’s the Difference?

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Know Your Options: Memory Care & Assisted Living

You may have heard of the 3 most common options for senior living: nursing homes, assisted living, and memory care. Memory care can often be the easiest to understand, as it has specialized programs for memory support. But all 3 can share similarities, particularly in communities that offer multiple levels of care.

What’s the difference in services and amenities? What are living arrangements and dining opportunities like? Read on to learn more about memory care and assisted living and what sets them apart.

What Is Memory Care?

Memory care includes programs and services designed to support residents with memory problems and cognitive challenges. The programs typically include residents diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease.

Services typically available through memory care include:

  • 24-hour care & supervision
  • Memory-enhancing activities
  • Medication management
  • Housekeeping & laundry 
  • Complimentary transportation
  • Incontinence care & toileting
  • Personal care (dressing, bathing, etc.)
  • Mobility assistance
  • Meal services

Memory care rarely exists in a completely separate facility. Typically, communities with assisted living or nursing homes are divided into wings, which can benefit residents who may need to transition into a higher level of care later.

A female nurse walking with a female senior citizen patient in an assisted living home

What Is Assisted Living?

Assisted living (AL) is a type of senior housing that offers the most freedom. AL facilities promote independence and provide various levels of care, including personal and medical care. Assisted living can be similar to living independently but with improved access to unique amenities and services.

The most common support services offered at assisted living facilities include:

  • Meal services
  • Medication management
  • Housekeeping & laundry
  • Personal care assistance
  • Social events & recreation
  • 24-hour emergency care
  • Limited medical services

Differences: Memory Care vs. Assisted Living

Memory care and assisted living can share many similarities, particularly in communities that offer both options. However, if you’re deciding between the 2, here are the key differences to help you make an informed choice.

Amenities & Accommodation

Assisted living and memory care homes can have many of the same amenities and spaces, including gyms, gardens, and art studios. In addition, both may offer transportation services, pet-friendly accommodation, or private rooms.

However, memory care features designs to define spaces and ensure safety.  For example, memory care facilities can include:

  • Color-coded walls to mark paths
  • Reduced background noise
  • Clearly identified spaces/rooms
  • Enclosed outdoor spaces

Staff Training

Staff at memory care facilities complete specialized training and certifications. Their training improves their ability to recognize and manage challenging behaviors, such as:

  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Wandering

Additionally, memory care facilities have a lower staff-to-resident ratio for improved availability. It also adds more opportunities for staff to apply a personal touch to interactions.

Staff at assisted living facilities are knowledgeable about aiding everyday tasks, including personal care. However, AL communities can vary, as some may also have staff trained for medical care or memory support. If you’re considering an assisted living community, it’s best to schedule a visit and ask about staff qualifications.


Assisted living facilities are designed for independent seniors, so the security measures are mainly related to ensuring residents feel safe and secure in their community. Memory care facilities have additional security needs.

Some security features for memory care may include:

  • Keypad entry
  • Obscured exits
  • Locked entrances/exits
  • Doorbells signaling entering/exiting

Memory care facilities include design issues for behaviors typical for dementia or Alzheimer’s. For example, rooms may emphasize a soothing design to reduce agitation or aggression. Or the layout will be simplified to reduce confusion. Additionally, falls are more common in adults with medical issues, so the facility and design will take measures to prevent accidents. 

Meal Services

AL communities are given more freedom, which also means more choices. For example, they might eat in or dine out. Some facilities have shared kitchens where residents can prepare meals, and others boast exquisite dining facilities. Memory care programs feature dining plans created by nutrition experts with options to eat in their rooms or dining halls.

Both types of homes can have meal plan options but assisted living communities offer residents with more individual choices.

Activities & Recreation

Assisted living may have activities and recreation designed to support memory or cognitive problems, but that isn’t the focus. Memory care programs are specifically designed to include entertainment and activities for residents with cognitive difficulties. The program may also feature activities or exercises for improving cognitive health.

Assisted living and memory care homes provide many opportunities to engage, either through recreation or socializing. However, memory care activity programs can focus on memory support.

Contact Us for More Services

The main difference between assisted living and memory care is the specialized programs and training for memory support. There can be minor differences, but many of those can overlap when a community has housing for assisted living and memory care.

Assisted living and memory care homes can both be excellent options, depending on individual needs. Although knowing the basics can inform your decision, looking at individual facilities is also helpful. 

Fox Trail offers various levels of care, blending services rather than placing a firm line between assisted living and memory care. Finding the right home can be easier when you know your loved ones don’t have to go anywhere to access additional care services. 

If you’re considering assisted living or memory care, you’re welcome to schedule a tour or try a short-term stay to experience our community firsthand. Contact us to learn more about our services and amenities.

Ryan Donahue

Written by Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President

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