What Is Memory Care & How Much Does It Cost?

Laura Herman

Memory care facilities offer specialized care to meet the unique needs of people living with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

In this article, we’ll look at some of what sets memory care apart from other types of senior living communities – including its cost. It costs more than most other types of long-term care, but usually not as much as nursing homes.

We’ll also provide some helpful questions and considerations you’ll need when it comes time to look for the right memory care community for a loved one with memory loss.


What is Memory Care?

Memory care facilities provide home-like environments where people with dementia can live safely and comfortably.

Because memory care residents are often at risk of wandering or getting lost, these facilities are usually secured with locked doors. Most offer access to outdoor gardens or courtyards.

Specially trained caregivers assist residents with their activities of daily living, like eating, dressing, and bathing. Dementia care staff also check frequently on residents for safety. They also provide reminders, encouragement, and guidance throughout the day so residents don’t forget to eat or attend activities they’d enjoy.

Life enrichment activities are designed to provide opportunities for residents to socialize and engage in physically and mentally stimulating activities.

Memory care communities vary widely in design, staffing, programming, and overall quality. Some facilities provide dementia patients the security, structure, and stimulation they need to live at their best. Other facilities struggle with staffing or other issues, and ultimately the residents pay the price.

Look for facilities with plenty of caring staff members who appear relaxed, happy, and respectful to the residents. Staff members should tend to remain employed for long periods of time and they should be consistently scheduled with the same residents so that they have the chance to build trusting relationships together.

People with dementia are very vulnerable, and their living environment can profoundly impact their quality of life, so it’s essential to find a memory care facility that’s the right fit for your loved one with dementia.

Most memory care facilities can’t accommodate skilled nursing or medically fragile residents, although some can. Some assisted living facilities and nursing homes have memory care units built within their walls or campus, while other memory care communities are free-standing.


When is it time for Memory Care?

Family caregivers often struggle with the question “When is the right time for memory care?” It can be difficult to determine whether it would be better to keep a loved one at home, supported by family members and home care aides, or to move them to a senior care facility.

Even if it’s determined that facility living would be best, it can be unclear whether a move directly to a memory care facility could be better than first spending a year or two in an assisted living facility.

Older adults with mild cognitive impairment may not need memory care and may feel more comfortable in an assisted living community where they can live independently to a large degree. If they progress to a later stage of dementia, a move to a specialized dementia care community may be more appropriate.

On the other hand, moves can be traumatic for people with dementia, especially when they don’t understand why it’s necessary. For some people with dementia, settling into a new community early, when they’re more aware of the need for memory care, can minimize disruptive moves later down the line. 

People with dementia function best in familiar environments, and they benefit from long-standing trusting relationships with staff. However, others do better moving later when they may be less anxious or aware of their surroundings. Sometimes, the added cost of memory care over time is simply not an option financially.

The right time for memory care boils down to each individual’s specific situation, including the care options available to them at home through family or professional caregivers. These options are heavily impacted by the person’s financial resources and specific care needs.

The first step to making this decision is to understand the different types of senior living communities and care options available.


Memory Care Vs. Other Housing Options: Which Is Best for Your Loved One?

Assisted living communities, memory care facilities, and nursing homes each offer unique benefits and drawbacks. There’s no single best option for everyone.

Let’s review a variety of housing options to consider for your loved one:


Nursing home

Nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities offer 24-hour nursing care, along with room and board.
They can accommodate dementia patients who need a high level of medical care, such as those with serious illnesses or very frail health.

Nursing homes are the primary option for those who rely on Medicaid to pay for long-term care.


Assisted Living Facility

Assisted living communities provide individual apartments with limited staff oversight. They generally provide meals in a central dining room, but it’s usually up to each resident to get there on their own.

There are common areas and usually some group activities to help foster relationships among residents. Many assisted living communities offer different level-of-care services, such as assistance with medication or personal care for an additional fee. Some offer on-site amenities, like a pool or wellness center, or services like a weekly shopping bus for residents.

However, most assisted living facilities aren’t set up to prevent wandering, address aggressive behavior, or offer the extent of assistance that most people with moderate to severe dementia need.

Adult Foster Care or Group Home

Some states offer smaller residential settings, often called adult foster care or group homes. These small home settings usually accommodate around six to twelve residents in a large house. 

One or two staff members are available to cook meals, assist with simple medications, help with personal care, and provide general oversight. There’s not usually a lot of hustle and bustle, so these settings can be good choices for older adults who enjoy a quiet atmosphere and want the chance to build relationships over time with staff and other residents. Some of these group homes are geared especially toward people with different types of dementia.

Others can accommodate some individuals with dementia, but they may have limitations as to what care they provide. For example, they may not be able to handle wandering, behavioral concerns, or extensive assistance with mobility.

In-Home Care

Home care aides can be hired to come into an older adult’s home to provide assistance with housekeeping, transportation, companionship, personal care, and activities of daily living on your loved one’s custom schedule.

A few hours weekly or daily can do a lot to provide support for someone with mild dementia living on their own, or respite for a family caregiver, but after that, it becomes cost-prohibitive for many older adults.

Those who can afford it do sometimes opt for 24-hour in-home care over a move to a facility, however, they can miss out on the other benefits of facility living, such as opportunities for socialization, special activities, and closer oversight from a healthcare team.

Continuing Care Retirement Community

Continuing care retirement communities (sometimes called life plan communities) offer several types of senior living, such as independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing, all on one campus.

When a resident’s needs change, they may have to move to a different part of campus, but they won’t generally have to go through the trouble of finding a new facility altogether and can stay more easily connected to the community of friends they make over time.

Memory Care Facilities

Memory care facilities are designed to support people with different types of dementia to live safely and comfortably.

Specialized environments include safety features like secured doors, and specially trained staff provide support and guidance with all residents’ activities of daily living, activities, and medication use.

Most memory care facilities can’t accommodate skilled nursing or medically fragile residents, although some can. Some assisted living facilities and nursing homes have memory care units built within their walls or campus, while other memory care communities are free-standing.

Learn more about different senior living care options here.

How Much Do Memory Care Facilities Cost?

The cost of memory care averaged $6,935 per month in 2021. 

Actual costs range from as little as $2,500 to over $10,000 monthly, depending on the region and the level of service provided. Some facilities cater to the basic, budget-conscious consumer, while others offer luxurious living and plenty of amenities, and are priced accordingly.

The cost generally includes room and board, meals and snacks, and basic staff assistance and oversight. Some facilities incorporate level-of-care charges, meaning that if your loved one requires more than the base level of staff support they may incur additional charges. There may also be additional charges for outings or other special services.

For context, memory care tends to cost more than assisted living ($4,500), but less than nursing homes ($7,908 for a shared room or $9,034 for a private room). These costs represent the monthly national averages in 2021, according to the Genworth Cost of Care Calculator.

Medicare doesn’t pay for long-term care, but Medicaid will cover the costs for those who qualify. Most of the time, Medicaid only pays for care in nursing homes, but special “Medicaid Waiver Programs” sometimes cover memory care facilities.

Medicaid is often misunderstood. Learn the truth about these ten common Medicaid myths.

How to Find the Right Memory Care Facility for Your Loved One

Finding the right memory care facility for your loved one with memory loss is not a task that should be taken lightly.

If possible, start the process well before a move is imminent. It’s fine to start looking “just in case” as you start considering options for the future. High-quality memory care communities often have long wait lists, so it’s good to plan ahead.

Trying to find an available room in the middle of a crisis sets yourself and your loved one up for a more stressful situation and less chance of finding a good fit.

Here are three crucial steps to consider when looking for a memory care facility for a loved one:

1. Find memory care facilities in your area

Use the Alzheimer’s Association’s Community Resource Finder or your local Area Agency on Aging.

A locally-based senior facility referral service or a local geriatric care manager may be a good resource to point you in the right direction. Some may even do part of the footwork for you.

2. Schedule a tour with promising facilities 

With the memory care facilities you find promising, try scheduling tours to get a better understanding of what the facilities look like and offer. Visit during a meal if possible and visit unannounced several times, including over the weekend and evening.

3. Ask the right questions

 Asking a variety of questions will help you get a better feel for what memory care services the facility offers.

  • Staffing

    • What qualifications or training does your care staff have?

    • Are there any doctors, nurses, therapists, or other licensed healthcare providers on-site?

    • Individual Needs Assessment

      • How do you assess a person’s care needs? How often do you update their care plan?

      • What might cause my loved one to have to move out? What happens if they have a skilled nursing need?

  • Life Enrichment Activities

    • What activities are available to support the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of residents?

    • How does your program support social interaction for your residents?

    • Are there courtyards or outdoor spaces my loved one can access independently?

    • Does your memory care program include outings?

    • Can my loved one bring a pet?

  • Visiting

    • What is your visiting policy for family members?

    • What happens if there should be a COVID outbreak in the facility? How do you protect your residents from infection yet also protect them from isolation?

    • Pricing

      • Do you have a fee schedule describing charges? What are the level of care charges, if any? What services are subject to additional charges?

      • Do you accept long-term care insurance?

      • Do you accept Medicaid?

      • What happens to residents if they exhaust their funds while living in your community?

Memory Care Communities Can Benefit People with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

It’s worth the time and effort to find the right fit when it comes to memory care. While a poor-quality facility can contribute to behavioral challenges, social withdrawal, and faster cognitive or functional decline, high-quality communities offer tremendous benefits.

High-quality memory care communities strive to meet not only their residents’ physical needs, but also their needs for socialization, meaningful activity, and an appropriate level of cognitive stimulation. 

In addition, high-quality communities tend to retain staff over time, so residents benefit from positive relationships with staff members who care about them and who have the skills, knowledge, and patience to respond appropriately to their needs. These efforts have the effect of minimizing behavioral challenges and maximizing their independence and level of functioning, as well as increasing their happiness, and overall quality of life.