What is the difference in assisted living and memory care in assisted living?

What is the difference in assisted living and memory care in assisted living?Thousands of Alabama consumers need help or assistance with their activities of daily living and so they turn to assisted living facilities.

Once you start looking, you’ll see that sometimes a place is described as a “memory care unit” in an assisted living facility.  [Note:  There can also be a memory care unit in a skilled nursing facility (nursing home) but this is different than what we will discuss in this article].

So what’s the difference and what are the similarities?

Both “assisted living” and “memory care” is all part of the overall type of care known as assisted living.

So both types of facilities will help with activities of daily living such as:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Getting up and down out of a chair or out of bed
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Eating or meal preparation

Your loved one will go to an assisted living or memory care unit to get help with all sorts of activites including the ones described above.

Memory care is for those with serious dementia or Alzheimer’s challenges

In a normal assisted living, the resident is free to come and go as they please.  They can leave any time to go shopping, or visit family, etc.

But someone with impaired mental capabilities cannot be allowed to do this.  Wandering away is a frequent issue for those suffering from dreaded dementia/Alzheimer’s types of diseases.

So a “memory care” unit will be a secure facility.  The doors are locked.  This does a number of things:

  • Keeps your loved one from wandering away
  • Restricts who can come in and interact with your loved one and the other residents
  • Allows the freedom to your loved one to wander, especially at night, in a safe and secure environment.

If you have ever cared for a relative with these diseases, you know it is pretty common for them to want to wander.  Part of this may be from their confusion and so there is a desire to walk.  It can help reduce anxiety.  But if they are doing this in your home, they may endanger themselves.

Or they could wander outside in the cold or heat and that can be dangerous.

In a locked secure facility, they can “get the wandering” out so they can be happier.

In a regular assisted living this would not be possible.

One interesting thing is in memory care units, the residents tend to form very strong friendships and look out for each other.  While there may be a lot of confusion, normally they get along very well.

Finally, the staff at memory care units are usually very well trained to deal with these types of issues and hopefully they handle them with grace and lots of patience.

So which is better — regular assisted living or memory care?

It really depends.

If your loved one is mentally competent, then regular assisted living would almost certainly be more attractive due to the freedom and social interaction.

But if your loved one is declining mentally and can’t be left alone, then a memory care unit will be the place to look.

We’ll talk in other articles about how to find the right place but in this article, I just wanted to cover this difference between the two.

Best wishes

John Watts

PS — if your loved one is a veteran or a widow/widower of a veteran, there may be VA benefits that can help pay the cost of the assisted living or memory care unit.

If we can help you concerning a loved one in Alabama, feel free to contact us.


  1. I never knew that memory care facilities are secure to keep loved ones from wandering away. My parents are getting older, and my siblings and I have been wondering how to best care for them. My mother has been exhibiting signs of dementia, but my father is doing a little better in terms of health, though he is getting a little more limited in actions. Hopefully we can find a good assisted or memory care center that can accommodate them both. Thanks for the information!

    • John Watts says:


      You are welcome — glad it is helpful. Do check with any memory care about what security they have in place — it can vary quite a bit.

      Best wishes on finding the right place!

      John Watts

  2. Skylar Williams says:

    It makes sense that memory care is catered more toward people who have serious dementia or Alzheimer’s. My mother doesn’t have either of those, but she has been having trouble taking care of herself as she used to. It may be best to start talking to her about finding an assisted living facility.

    • John Watts says:


      That sounds smart to me.

      May even look at one that has an independent living and then can transition into assisted living.

      Best of success with that.


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