What Is Memory Care?

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Memory care units are floors, wings, or even entire facilities exclusively dedicated to house those with cognitive impairment, such as people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. These spaces, sometimes called special care units, are usually separated from regular assisted living and nursing home floors because different medical and safety precautions are needed. They can provide specialized care for those dealing with cognitive decline.

Services provided

Families can choose a private or semi-private room at memory care communities. There’s usually a private bathroom, a bed, dresser, closet, and space for a chair or end table. Most facilities ask families to bring in personal items, like artwork and photos, to decorate the room.

Memory care floors in assisted living facilities offer more independence for those who do not need medical care on a 24-hour basis. Those with more complex medical needs should choose a memory care floor in a nursing home.

Both provide tight security (to prevent people from wandering off campus) and offer various activities, like music and craft (painting, knitting) and organizational projects.

Some basic services all memory care floors provide are:

  • Room and board
  • Help with dressing and bathing, if needed
  • Meals
  • Housekeeping and laundry
  • Exercise programs
  • Social activities
  • 24-hour staff supervision
  • 24-hour security

Cost and how to pay for it

Generally speaking, memory care will add another $1,200 to the monthly bill for an assisted living or nursing home facility, according to the American Elder Care Research Organization. (The national median for assisted living in 2017 was $3,750 per month, while a semi-private room in a nursing home cost $7,148, according to Genworth Financial.)

Like the pricing models for assisted living and nursing homes, the payment options for memory care can be bundled or tiered, depending on what kind of care your loved one needs. Some facilities are all-inclusive, while others add on fees for different services that are used. Make sure you get the prices of services in writing, before signing any contracts.

Medicare

Medicare does not pay for custodial services, like room and board, on memory care units. However, it can pay for medical costs, like physical and occupational therapy, or prescription drugs. You may be able to join a Medicare Special Needs Plan (SNP), a type of insurance similar to a Medicare supplemental insurance plan, which may give you some more financial assistance with dementia care. Look here for more information.

Since 2017, Medicare also covers care planning, where physicians and other clinicians can help caregivers assist and advise on a care plan for those with memory loss. (Take a look at this handy tipsheet from the Alzheimer’s Association.)

Medicaid

Medicaid programs are run on a federal and state level, so the rules and regulations with Medicaid and Medicaid waivers for dementia care vary widely. Medicaid waivers allow people with various medical conditions, which include certain disabilities like Alzheimer’s, to receive care outside of a nursing home or a hospital. (Other groups covered include developmentally disabled children and people with HIV/AIDS).  Generally speaking, many people with advanced dementia qualify for Medicaid waivers and can use the services in long-term care facilities.

There are other organizations that you can turn to for financial assistance. Some organizations are state-based, others are national, and may offer grants to help you pay for certain dementia care. This list gives some options.

What to look for

Memory care facilities provide a very specific set of services. Besides the level of medical care, you should also be asking yourself what kind of security measures are in place, and if specialized activities, like folding laundry, music therapy, or art classes are available. Ask for recommendations from trusted family members and friends, as well as consulting (if you have them) elder care social workers, lawyers, and financial planners. If you are considering a nursing home facility, use the Medicare.gov Nursing Home Compare tool to get information about the facility’s health inspection results and other quality of care measures.

It’s always best to visit several facilities to get the feel of the place, but generally speaking, you should be asking yourself:

  • What type of care does the facility offer? Is there personalized attention given to each resident?
  • How does the facility bill its residents? Get a list of services and the fees upfront and in writing.
  • Is the facility Medicaid- and/or Medicare-certified?
  • What qualifications do the nursing and other skilled staff have?
  • How do they deal with emergencies?
  • Has the facility received any federal or state citations? If so, for what and how was it resolved?
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