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Dementia Care: Should We Choose a Nursing Home or Memory Care Community?

A caregiver shows something to a smiling senior female

Nursing Home or Memory Care?

What’s the best choice for your family member with dementia? Evaluating your loved one’s long-term care needs isn’t easy. Eventually, the options will boil down to whether you choose more general long-term care such as that found in a nursing home, or whether a dedicated memory care community will better serve their specific needs. We’ve provided an explanation of the differences and closing tips on how to make the choice.


Nursing Home

Nursing homes for dementia patients also provide a broad range of long-term care for other seniors. These are older adults with medical or health conditions who can no longer live independently. For these seniors, living in a nursing home feels like a long stay in a hospital. They are usually not ambulatory and need help with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as showering, dressing or using the toilet. A nursing home for dementia patients has a lower level of privacy, because rooms are set up to allow staff to provide continuous care. Along with long-term nursing care, a nursing home for dementia patients may provide assisted living and short-term rehabilitation services. Certain staff members may have special training to help people with dementia, but not all. Since they deal with a wide range of care, a nursing home for dementia patients may not be set up to cope with certain behaviors that are triggered by memory loss, and if these behaviors become extreme, they may ask the resident to leave.  


Memory Care

Sometimes a stand-alone facility and sometimes part of a senior living community, a memory care community is dedicated to the care of those at all stages of cognitive decline. This includes Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and other forms of dementia. Unlike a nursing home for dementia patients, the setting is more homelike, with residents usually living in their own apartments.There are other striking differences between a nursing home for dementia patients and a memory care community. The physical layout of a memory care community incorporates visual cues, circular hallways with no dead ends, secure outdoor areas, and other features that support people with dementia. Treatments and therapies slow the advancement of disease, and activities such as music, arts and crafts, and events encourage residents to socialize and engage with others.   Dementia poses unique and specific challenges. Memory care staff are trained to identify the different stages of the disease and know what to do next. They understand how to manage a resident’s anxiety, hallucinations or sundowner syndrome, connect with someone who is having trouble communicating, and de-escalate aggressive or confused behavior.COMPARING NURSING HOMES AND MEMORY CARE COMMUNITIES 

  Nursing Homes  Memory Care Communities
Care A range of care for seniors who need full time nursing, may not be mobile, and can no longer live at home. May include medical support (IVs, catheters, etc.) and/or assistance with dressing, grooming and bathing. Specific care for seniors at every stage of dementia. Therapies and treatments to assist with various forms of cognitive decline. Residents receive help with activities of daily living as part of their care.
Number of Residents  From upward of 50 to several hundred patients. From dozens to usually less than 100.
Setting Feels more clinical/institutional in terms of colors, lighting and furnishings. Feels more like a home or a neighborhood. More natural light and outdoor views that have been shown to be beneficial.
Privacy Less. Usually a shared room. More. Individual residence or shared suite.
Security Security is controlled; however, residents who are mobile are able to come and go as they please. Supervision may be relaxed when visitors are present. A high level of security, including special locks and monitoring, to prevent residents from wandering out and becoming lost.
Physical design Locked or otherwise secure access areas. Rooms may contain medical equipment. Purpose-designed, secure neighborhood with locks and monitoring. Clear visual cues and circular hallways with no dead ends help seniors navigate without getting lost. Secure outdoor areas for safe walking or wandering.
Activities Scheduled exercise and other activities include all residents who are ambulatory and able to participate. However, they may not be enriching for residents with dementia. Enrichment activities specifically designed to engage residents with memory loss. Usually briefer and calming.
Staff Staff mostly focus on long-term skilled care and rehabilitation. Some staff may be specially trained in memory care. The director and a large percentage of care staff have dementia-specific training.


How to choose?

Both types of facilities share similarities. They both provide a safe environment and expert care. They both provide meals, activities, assistance with ADLs, and shared spaces to enjoy. Both accommodate residents with early-stage dementia. However, because regulations vary, it’s important to check with your local authority to learn about the specific requirements and certifications that staff should have.If your loved one with dementia is also affected by another medical condition that requires highly skilled, 24-hour care, then skilled nursing and rehabilitative therapies at a nursing home may be a good fit.  However, since dementia care may only be a small part of their services, it may fall short of your expectations. In contrast, a memory care community addresses every stage of dementia with customized care plans. For loved ones with advanced memory loss, or who have difficult-to-manage symptoms such as wandering or aggression, a memory care community is a better choice.     Another important point to consider is how your loved one’s memory loss affects the whole family. The changes in relationships and uncertainty about the future are stressful for everyone. Staff at a memory care community are better prepared to help families through this tough time and can connect you with resources, support groups and counseling as you need them.


Make the decision early.

Decide what to do before your loved one’s dementia is too far advanced. It’s easier for your loved one to adapt to a new living space while they’re still able to weigh in on the decision and participate in the move.Freedom Village of Bradenton is a continuing care retirement community with a dedicated memory care neighborhood, plus skilled nursing and rehabilitation on-site. We’ve helped hundreds of families in the Bradenton area understand the pros and cons of memory care. Don’t wait any longer. Contact us to discuss your loved one’s needs and our available care options.