The Difference Between Long-Term Care and Memory Care

memory card set

What’s the difference between long-term care and memory care?

Knowing the answer can help you find the best fit for your parent. Below, we’ll explore the difference between the two, as well as how to determine which is right for your loved one.

Long-Term Care vs Memory Care

Long-term care is a service designed for seniors who need support for everyday life. In long-term care communities, seniors who are no longer able to live independently receive a broad range of medical and personal services.

Memory care is a specialized type of long-term care designed for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Memory care communities offer assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) like long-term care communities but also offer specialized care for people suffering from memory loss.


Long-Term Care Explained

While long-term care communities often offer skilled nursing services, the main goal of long-term care is to help with ADLs.

Many seniors move to long-term care after assisted living, or they may be admitted from home or the hospital.

If you’re having trouble differentiating long-term care from assisted living, think of long-term care as a notch above assisted living in terms of the level of care provided. Much like assisted living, it’s for seniors who are having some issues with living alone. However, seniors in long-term care need more extensive assistance than those in assisted living, who in contrast may only need minor help with one or two ADLs.

To enter a long-term care community that offers skilled nursing, a doctor must confirm the care is necessary. It’s like a prescription for long-term care.


Related: Choosing an Assisted Living Community: Why Continuum of Care Matters


Memory Care Explained

As we mentioned above, memory care is a type of long-term care. Some long-term care communities may offer memory care services, some may not.

This is because people with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia have very specific needs. They need care that is tailored to them and not all long-term care communities are equipped to offer specialized memory care.

If your loved one is experiencing issues with memory loss, you may want to look into memory care communities. Just be sure that they offer memory care services in addition to common long-term care community services and amenities.

What Does Memory Care Provide?

Memory care communities provide specialized programming designed to minimize anxiety and agitation, which are emotions that are common in people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. At Optalis communities that offer memory care, residents are encouraged to participate in a variety of structured activities throughout the day.

Staff at a memory care community are trained to understand the unique needs of residents experiencing memory loss. The community itself will be equipped with extra security measures designed to keep seniors safe. For example, it’s not uncommon for seniors with dementia to wander, so memory care communities have security measures in place to keep them from accidentally leaving the community.

However, this does not mean that residents are locked inside the community. At Optalis, for example, memory care residents have access to a secure outside courtyard so they can enjoy the outdoors.


Related: Is this Alzheimer’s? Common Health Conditions that Mimic Dementia


When Is It Time for Memory Care?

It’s important to distinguish between normal memory loss associated with aging and memory loss caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s. If you’ve noticed that your parent has been a bit forgetful lately, it may not necessarily be a sign of dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers this helpful comparison between Alzheimer’s and typical age-related changes:

Signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia Typical Age-Related Changes
Poor judgment and decision-making Making a bad decision once in a while
Inability to manage a budget Missing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date or the season Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later
Difficulty having a conversation Sometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them Losing things from time to time

If your parent is displaying signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia, talk with their doctor. They will be able to provide a diagnosis and recommendations for care, which may include a memory care community.


Related: Ask The Expert: How to Help Dad Move to Memory Care


Dementia and Alzheimer’s Support

While you look for a community for your parent, remember to take time for yourself. This can be a very stressful time for caregivers.

The following resources can help:

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

National Institute on Aging

Many memory care communities also offer Alzheimer’s support groups. When you tour a community, be sure to ask if they have one in place.

Long-Term Care Guide