Assisted Living or Memory Care: How to Choose the Best Option


Assisted Living or Memory Care: How to Choose the Best Option

When families begin their search for a senior living community in Northern Virginia for an aging family member, they must determine the appropriate level of care.

As a Senior Living Advisor in Northern Virginia (Alisha Jones, 703-878-7870), I find that many families find it difficult to choose between assisted living and memory care. Understanding the senior's specific needs and identifying which communities will best meet those needs are key parts of my role.

Memory care, for instance, is intended for those diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. When families find that a family member has dementia, they frequently believe that memory care is the best option. To determine where they will thrive, you have to go beyond memory problems and consider how they interact with the environment on a daily basis.

Their amount of interaction with others may indicate that they would do better in assisted living, where they would enjoy a more active lifestyle, as opposed to memory care, which offers a less active but more attentive and structured environment. Even though assisted living might not provide the appropriate degree of care for every senior, it can serve as a good starting point for some. As their health declines, they can transition into memory care when they require supervision, programming, and anxiety management at that level.

Therefore, the decisions we make now must guarantee that your loved one has the greatest possible senior living experience based on their needs today, not months or years from now.

When choosing between assisted living and memory care, you should think about the following differences:

Cost of Care

Even with added services, assisted living in Northern Virginia is often less expensive than memory care. Even with an intensive care plan, assisted living generally costs between $4,500 and $7,500 per month. Memory care in Northern Virginia is commonly more than $8,000 a month. Families choose to put an older family member in an assisted living community if they only have mild memory problems and aren't likely to be a wandering danger.


Every part of your loved one's daily life is designed to avoid falls and other accidents, regardless of where they live. In memory care, security precautions are in place to prevent residents from straying and to guarantee that they are always secure and accounted for. Memory care also makes it a top priority to protect employees, visitors, and other residents from problems and frustrations caused by dementia. Staff members are trained to respond calmly and with compassion.

Care for Physical Requirements

In both Assisted Living and Memory Care, there are competent aides on staff around the clock (aides are the "assistance" in Assisted Living). Nurses develop care plans, supervise the aides, and serve as backups in the event that a resident falls ill. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are provided in many communities.

Caring for the Physical Symptoms of Dementia

As stated previously, a person with relatively mild dementia symptoms can flourish in an assisted living community. Nonetheless, as the illness worsens, people may become increasingly suitable for a formal memory care placement. The physical indications of dementia that will require the relocation are incapacity to manage any personal care needs, trouble communicating for themselves, and mobility issues related to cognitive loss.

Resident Happiness

In both communities, the happiness of the residents is of the utmost importance, but in memory care, the objective is to provide residents with a tranquil day. Beyond normal stimulation activities, there are no meaningful conversations or physical and/or mental challenges for those with dementia. Instead, the staff work to assist individuals in finding whatever comfort they can.

Community Staff Levels

Memory care normally has an 8:1 staffing ratio, whereas assisted living can range from 12:1 to 16:1. These figures reflect the average care requirements of the inhabitants. Some assisted living residents, for instance, need a high degree of care while others require very little and will seldom need a home health aide.

Accommodation Types

Memory care accommodations are often more compact and basic than assisted living accommodations. They are particularly developed for simple navigation to facilitate safe mobility for those with cognitive impairments. Residents at Memory Care are also better at ease in smaller, structured, single-occupancy quarters. There are shared flats available at both care levels.

Staff Interaction

Kindness and respect for residents are essential in both care communities. In memory care, however, increased patience is required when a person is disoriented or struggles to remain "in the now." The staff will frequently use redirection to divert a person's attention. For instance, the person might be reminded of a favorite song and encouraged to sing or play the piano arrangement.

Family/Staff Communication

Families are strongly urged to participate on both sides. The majority of senior living communities are proactive in informing families of incidents that occur, such as falls or behavioral difficulties.

Is it Time for Memory Care?

Assisted living communities will frequently suggest when it’s time for a resident to transition to memory care. For instance, the resident's family will be contacted if he or she refuses to come down for meals, does not engage in activities, or seldom changes clothing. At some point, the assisted living staff will advocate a shift to memory care, when getting clients up, washed, dressed, and escorted to meals are all part of daily living.

It is also essential to know that care is typically priced separately from rent in assisted living communities. When the cost of extra care is close to the total cost of memory care, moving becomes a smart financial choice.

My final point is the most crucial: senior living communities consider resident care needs and well-being their top priority. As such, it's important to consistently respect the wishes of your elderly loved one while also taking the community staff's recommendations and feedback seriously.

For more information or no-cost assistance with independent living, assisted living, memory care, in-home care, or other senior living options in Northern Virginia’s Prince William County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Arlington County, or Alexandria, please call our local elder care experts today at (703) 878-7870 or contact us via e-mail.