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Memory Care Vs Nursing Home: 7 Key Differences, Cost & Paying For Care

memory care vs nursing home - senior woman laughing with caregiver

Caring for seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or chronic conditions is not an easy task. If you’re the primary caregiver for your elderly loved one, it may be challenging to juggle their care with other responsibilities like family, children, or career.

A memory care facility or nursing home may be an excellent choice for your loved one. But what are their differences? How do you know which one is right for your loved one?

This article explains the key differences between memory care and nursing home, knowing which is right for your loved one, and how to get started.

What Is Memory Care?

Memory care is a specialized form of care provided in memory care facilities for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Seniors receive round-the-clock care and are assisted with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, and grooming.

Care is personalized, and includes cognitive programs and exercises that attempt to slow down the progression of the disease and enhance quality of life.

Memory care facilities can be standalone or included within a nursing home or senior community.

Here’s what to expect in a typical memory care community.

Trained dementia care staff

Since memory care facilities focus on people with dementia, staff are not just regular caregivers, but are trained in recognizing and managing dementia symptoms and behaviors.

Some of these include:

  • Wandering
  • Confusion
  • Sundowning
  • Hallucination
  • Agitation
  • Aggression

Safe and secure environment

Memory care facilities are designed with safety and security in mind. Since dementia patients are prone to wandering and confusion, facilities have built-in safety features such as locks, and doors, enclosed gardens, and keypad entry for staff or family to prevent wandering.

Most memory care homes use paintings, color coding, and signage to enable seniors to get around independently.

Additionally, memory care facilities strive to create a homelike environment that is familiar and comfortable for residents. This includes personalized room decor, common areas that resemble home settings, and spaces designed to encourage social interaction and relaxation. The familiar environment helps reduce confusion and anxiety

Structured schedules and programs

In memory care communities, activities and schedules are planned and maintained. It’s crucial to keep planned schedules to prevent agitation or confusion.

senior woman in a memory care facility playing a puzzle game

Structured programs are also utilized to manage memory loss symptoms. Programs such as:

  • Music therapy
  • Light therapy
  • Pet therapy
  • Cognition exercises like puzzles and memory games
  • Fitness exercises such as walking, yoga, and tai chi

Personalized care

Memory care facilities often develop individualized care plans that address the specific needs, preferences, and abilities of each resident. These plans typically include personalized activities, dietary considerations, and medical care to ensure that each resident receives the appropriate level of support and attention

What Are Nursing Homes?

Nursing homes provide various levels of skilled medical care around the clock for individuals who are seriously ill. Services offered also include assisting seniors with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, and eating.

Additionally, nursing homes also provide social and recreational activities to keep seniors engaged and active. However, activities and programs are not as robust or structured as you’d find in a memory care facility.

elderly man in a nursing home getting rehabilitation services| average cost of memory care

Nursing homes have different types of residents. Some may only require a short stay while recovering from surgery, while others may require a longer stay like dementia patients or those with chronic health conditions.

Here’s what to expect in a typical nursing home.

Strict admission requirements

Seniors must present a doctor’s prescription and physical exam before they can move in. This is due to the high level of care provided in nursing homes.

Situations that may qualify seniors for a nursing home include:

  • Continuous supervision
  • Rehabilitative services
  • Assistance with activities of daily living
  • Assistance managing health conditions and medications

Short-term or long-term care

Depending on your loved one’s situation, they may require short or long-term care.

Short-term care involves skilled nursing services for seniors recovering from surgery, falls, or an acute injury. While seniors may have been discharged from the hospital, they cannot go home yet, as they require this high level of care to fully recover.

Long-term care is for seniors who have terminal illnesses, cognitive disorders, or other chronic conditions. They require 24/7 supervision to lead a quality life.

Skilled nursing services

Nursing homes provide specialized medical care for residents. This includes:

Other types of senior care available

Aside from nursing home and memory care, other types of senior living arrangements for seniors include:

Assisted Living

Assisted living homes or communities provide hands-on care for seniors who are struggling to maintain their independence. Residents in these homes, however, don’t require constant medical care and supervision.

caregiver brushing a senior woman’s hair in assisted living

Services offered include:

  • Activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, and grooming
  • Meal preparation
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Transportation
  • Social and recreational activities

Unlike nursing homes or memory care, assisted living has more freedom and less structure.

Home Care

Most seniors prefer to age in place — stay in a familiar environment surrounded by family and loved ones. Home care services can be tailored to fit the needs of the senior. For instance, instead of staying in a memory care facility, a senior may prefer to receive memory care services at home.

A drawback is that it may become expensive for seniors to receive or get access to specialized medical care.

Differences Between Memory Care And Nursing Home

Now we understand what memory care and nursing homes are, and what to expect, let’s look at the differences between both care options for your beloved senior.

Level of Care

Memory care provides personalized care for residents in every stage of dementia. This includes activities of daily living, medication management, and programs to improve cognition and slow down the progression of dementia.

Nursing homes provide intermediate and advanced medical care that residents cannot get at home. This includes IV therapy, catheter change, wound care, or rehabilitative therapies like physical therapy.

Unlike memory care, the types of residents found in nursing homes are mixed. They may include dementia patients, those with terminal conditions, or those recovering from surgery.

Environment and building design

Memory care facilities include dementia-specific designs such as circular hallways, secured entrances and exits, alarm systems, and enclosed gardens. This prevents residents from wandering. The building design also includes bright painting or color coding to prevent confusion and make areas easily recognized.

Nursing homes typically have more natural light and larger spaces to make areas less institutional. While they may have safety features such as looks and secured exits, the focus is not to prevent wandering.

Programs and activities

In memory care, programs and activities are structured and follow the same pattern. Structured daily activities reduce confusion and agitation in residents. Dementia-specific programs or therapies are also maximized to manage symptoms. Therapies could include brain-enhancing games like puzzles, music, and pet therapy. Socialization and low-impact exercises such as walking are encouraged as well.

brain-enhancing activities in memory care

Nursing homes may not have structured routines for residents. Since most residents are seriously ill or recovering, social activities and events may be limited.

Staff training

Staff and caregivers in a memory care facility have dementia training to recognize and manage dementia symptoms. They can easily handle behaviors and make an agitated or confused resident calm. Since the level of medicare care is not high, there may be one or two nurses on site. Residents may be taken to a hospital or clinic in case of medical emergencies.

Registered nurses and medical professionals can be found in nursing homes as most residents require a high level of medical care. While dementia staff may be available for nursing home dementia residents, not all staff may be trained in dementia care.

Admission requirements

Memory care communities don’t have strict admission requirements. Patients in the middle and late stages of dementia can be admitted without a doctor’s report or referral.

Nursing homes on the flip side have strict admission requirements. For a resident to be admitted, they must present a doctor’s prescription and physical examination report before they can move in. This enables the medical team to customize a medical care plan that suits their needs.


Memory care costs are slightly cheaper compared to nursing homes. The average cost for memory care per month is $6,200, while the average cost for nursing homes ranges from $9,000 to $10,000 for semi-private and private rooms.

Number of residents

Memory care facilities are medium-sized with the number of residents ranging from 11-25 per facility. With this moderate number, residents can receive personalized care and attention from staff. On the other hand, staff can provide care without feeling overwhelmed, or burnt out.

Nursing homes are larger than memory care facilities, with 50-200 residents per nursing facility. This large number might make it challenging to provide personalized care.

Cost Of Memory Care vs Nursing Home

According to a Place For Mom Report 2024, the average monthly cost for memory care is $6,200 across the United States.

Typical memory care services that make up the cost include:

  • Housing
  • Three nutritious meals per day plus snacks
  • Safety protocols such as locks, and secured exits
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Medication management
  • Activities of daily living such as bathing and dressing
  • Transportation to and from medical appointments
  • Therapies to manage dementia symptoms
  • 24-hour care with a low caregiver-resident ratio

If the memory care unit is part of a larger community, they may offer a la carte services at extra cost. Some of these services include:

cost of memory care vs nursing home

For nursing homes, the cost of care ranges from $8,929 to $10,025 per month. These costs include housing, medical care, and other basic services.

What influences the cost of memory care and nursing homes

Several factors influence the cost of care. Let’s take a look at some of these.

  • Location: Cities and states that have a high cost of living will impact the cost of memory care or nursing homes. For instance, Vermont has an average memory care cost of $10,730, while South Dakota has an average of $3,210.
  • Services provided: the services offered by the facility or nursing home also influence the cost of care. The more services and amenities offered plus a la carte services, the more the cost.
  • Unit type: the type of room or living space also influences cost. For example, in nursing homes, semiprivate residences have an average monthly cost of $8,929, while private rooms have an average monthly cost of $10,025.
  • Availability: in cases where services are readily available, cost will be low. However, if services are in high demand, but the availability is low, costs will increase. This is particularly true for memory care which is a specialized service.

Which Is Right For My Loved One?

The type of care your loved one will need depends on their mental and physical health. Let’s look at some factors to consider when making that decision.

Factors to consider when deciding between memory care and nursing homes

Type and stage of the condition

The type and stage of your loved one’s condition influence the type of care to go for. If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other memory-related problems, memory care will be the right fit.

deciding between memory care and nursing homes - a sick elderly man in bed

However, if they require rehabilitation, long-term care, or assistance with daily living activities nursing home care may be the right choice.

Level of care

If your loved one is in the middle or later stages of dementia, they will benefit from memory care which offers structured programs and activities tailored to cognitive stimulation, along with round-the-clock supervision in a secure setting.

On the flip side, if they are in the early stages, the nursing home may be ideal as they would benefit from assistance with daily activities and rehabilitation therapies.

Staff expertise and training

Memory care staff are specifically trained in dementia care, understanding the unique needs and behaviors of residents with memory impairments. This means your loved one can receive expert care.

But in nursing homes, Staff have a broad range of medical training to address various health issues, with some specialized knowledge in dementia but not to the same extent as memory care facilities.

Environment and security

Memory care features a secure environment with safety measures to prevent wandering and ensure resident safety. Often designed with calming, homelike settings to reduce confusion and anxiety.

Nursing homes provide a safe environment but may not have the same level of specialized security features as memory care units.

If your loved one is more prone to wandering, memory care may be the best choice in this case.

Social and recreational activities

Activities specifically for residents with memory issues that promote cognitive function, memory recall, and social engagement are emphasized in memory care.

While nursing homes offer a variety of social and recreational activities, they may not be as specialized for cognitive stimulation.

If your loved one will benefit from memory-enhancing programs and activities, memory care would be the right fit. However, if that is not a major concern, then you may opt for nursing home care.

Do I need both?

In situations where your loved one has serious health conditions besides dementia, both services can be combined to give them comprehensive care.

does my loved one need both memory care and nursing home services

Senior living options where both services can be received include:

  • Nursing homes with memory care units: Some nursing homes have memory care units or wings for dementia patients. Here, your loved one can access both skilled nursing and dementia services in one location.
  • Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs): These communities offer different levels of care in one location. From independent living to assisted living, nursing care, and memory care, seniors don’t need to change location as their care needs change.
  • At home: if your loved one wishes to age at home, they may receive both memory care and nursing care at home. Memory care experts and medical professionals will regularly visit to provide specialized care, while aides will provide personal care and other homemaker services. However, this option is more expensive, and sometimes, not all medical care can be provided at home.

What To Look For In A Nursing Home Or Memory Care

When evaluating a nursing home or memory care facility, it’s important to consider several key factors to ensure that it meets the needs of your loved one.

senior smile smiling with female caregiver in a nursing home | provided in nursing homes

Here are some important aspects to look for:

General Considerations

1. Reputation and Reviews

  • Check online reviews, ratings, and testimonials from current or former residents and their families.
  • Look for any complaints or violations reported to regulatory agencies.

2. Accreditation and Licensing

  • Verify that the facility is properly licensed and accredited by relevant state and national organizations. For example, nursing homes are regulated by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
  • Ensure compliance with all health and safety regulations.

3. Location and Accessibility

  • Consider the facility’s proximity to family members for frequent visits.
  • Evaluate the ease of access for medical appointments and emergencies.

4. Cleanliness and Maintenance

  • Visit the facility to assess cleanliness, hygiene standards, and overall maintenance.
  • Pay attention to the condition of common areas, resident rooms, and outdoor spaces.

5. Nutrition and Dining

  • Assess the quality and variety of meals provided, including accommodation for special dietary needs.
  • Observe meal times to see if residents receive assistance and social interaction during dining.

6. Resident Independence and Autonomy

  • Look for facilities that encourage and support residents’ independence and decision-making.
  • Evaluate the availability of personalized and flexible routines.

7. Family Involvement and Communication

  • Ensure the facility encourages family involvement and provides regular updates on the resident’s condition.
  • Look for support services for families, such as educational workshops and support groups.

8. Amenities and Comfort

  • Check for amenities like gardens, communal areas, recreational facilities, and transportation services.
  • Evaluate the comfort and personalization options for resident rooms.

9. Cost and Financial Options

  • Understand the cost structure and what services are included or require additional fees.
  • Check for availability of financial assistance programs, insurance coverage, and payment plans.

Specific to Nursing Homes

1. Medical and Nursing Care

  • Ensure 24/7 access to skilled nursing care and a range of medical services.
  • Confirm the availability of rehabilitation therapies (physical, occupational, speech), especially if your loved one would need them.

2. Staff Qualifications and Ratios

  • Check the qualifications and training of the nursing and medical staff.
  • Look for an adequate staff-to-resident ratio to ensure personalized care.

3. Care Plans

  • Ensure that personalized care plans are developed and regularly updated for each resident.
  • Confirm the involvement of residents and families in care planning.

Specific to Memory Care

1. Specialized Memory Care Programs

  • Look for programs tailored to residents with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive impairments.
  • Assess the availability of activities designed to stimulate cognitive function and memory recall.

2. Safety and Security Features

  • Ensure the facility has secure entry and exit points to prevent wandering.
  • Look for features like emergency call systems, surveillance, and staff trained in dementia care.

3. Therapeutic Activities and Engagement

  • Evaluate the variety and quality of therapeutic activities, such as music therapy, art therapy, and reminiscence sessions.
  • Check for opportunities for social engagement and community involvement.

Visiting multiple facilities, asking detailed questions, and taking note of the interactions between staff and residents will help in making an informed decision.

How To Find Memory Care Or Nursing Home Near Me

Finding a suitable memory care or nursing home facility near you for your loved one involves several steps. Here are some effective methods to help you locate the best options.

how to find the right memory care or nursing home - group of older adults in memory care

Online Research

  1. Search Engines: Use search engines like Google or Bing to find memory care facilities, or nursing homes in your area. You can search for terms like “memory care facilities near me” or “nursing homes near me.”
  2. Online Directories: Use online directories that specialize in listing senior care facilities, such as:
  1. Cost Compare Tool: Visit Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare tool to find and compare nursing homes in your area based on various quality metrics such as:
  • Overall rating
  • Quality measures rating
  • Health inspections
  • Staffing
  1. State Health Departments: Check your state’s health department website for licensed memory care and nursing home facilities. Many states have databases or directories of licensed care providers.

Recommendations and Referrals

  1. Healthcare Providers: Ask your doctor, hospital discharge planner, or other healthcare professionals for recommendations. They often have experience with local facilities and can provide valuable insights.
  2. Local Area Agencies on Aging: Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for information and resources on senior care options. They can provide listings of memory care and nursing home facilities in your area.
  3. Community Resources: Reach out to local senior centers, Alzheimer’s Association chapters, and other community organizations that support seniors and their families. They often have resources and recommendations.

Visits and Evaluations

  1. Facility Tours: Schedule visits to multiple facilities to see them in person. Pay attention to cleanliness, staff interactions, resident activities, and overall atmosphere.
  2. Meet with Administrators: During your visit, meet with the facility administrators or directors to ask detailed questions about care services, staff qualifications, safety measures, and costs.
  3. Talk to Residents and Families: If possible, speak with current residents and their families to get firsthand feedback about their experiences with the facility.

Reviews and Ratings

  1. Online Reviews: Read online reviews and ratings on websites like Google, Yelp, and to see what others have experienced at the facilities you’re considering.
  2. State Inspection Reports: Check for state inspection reports and any citations or violations issued to the facility. This information is often available through your state’s health department website.

Cost and Financial Planning

  1. Cost Comparison: Compare the costs of different facilities and understand what is included in the fees. Ask about any additional charges for specific services or amenities.
  2. Insurance and Financial Assistance: Check if the facilities accept long-term care insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. Inquire about any available financial assistance programs or payment plans.
  3. Consult with a Financial Advisor: If needed, consult with a financial advisor who specializes in senior care planning to help you understand the costs and explore funding options.

How to pay for memory care or nursing home care

Paying for memory care or nursing home care can be a significant financial burden. Here are four major ways to cover the costs:

Private Pay (Out-of-Pocket)

This involves using personal savings, income, or assets to pay for care. This method provides flexibility in choosing a facility without restrictions imposed by insurance or government programs.

This can quickly deplete savings, so it’s crucial to plan carefully and consider long-term financial sustainability.

​​ paying for memory care and nursing home

Long-Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance policies are specifically designed to cover the costs of care in settings such as memory care facilities and nursing homes. These policies typically cover services like personal care, skilled nursing care, and therapy.

However, premiums can be high, and policies need to be purchased well before care is needed. If your loved one has long-term care insurance, review policy details carefully to understand coverage limits and exclusions.

Medicare and Medicaid

These are public health insurance that may offset some costs for nursing care and memory care.

Medicare doesn’t pay for long-term care services such as those provided in memory care facilities or nursing homes for custodial care. However, if your loved one requires skilled nursing such as after a hospital stay for a related illness or injury, it can cover short-term stays in skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) under specific conditions.

Medicaid is a state and federally-funded program that helps low-income individuals pay for long-term care, including memory care and nursing homes. Eligibility and coverage vary by state, but it generally covers a significant portion of the costs for those who qualify.

Veterans Benefits

Veterans who served in the military, as well as their spouses, may be eligible for long-term care benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Programs like the Aid and Attendance benefit can help cover the costs of memory care or nursing home care.

Let Amy’s Eden be Your trusted partner for Senior care

Now you understand the difference between memory care vs nursing home. There is one more thing to keep in mind — facilities are not created equal in terms of services and quality of care.

If you want the highest quality of memory care for your elderly loved one, Amy’s Eden provides compassionate care to enhance their quality of life.

We also offer specialized care services such as:

  • Post-operative care
  • Wound care
  • Chronic Condition Management
  • Respiratory care
  • Diabetes management, and more.

Contact us today to learn how we can help your loved one thrive in their golden years despite their mental or physical health condition. At Amy’s Eden, we help your loved one find joy in every moment.

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