Sep 18, 2016

What is a Memory Care Facility?

Memory Care Facilities may also be called communities, neighborhoods, units, wings, or hallways. They are all designed and devoted to serving people with Alzheimer's and dementia.


What you need to know about  memory care facilities
By Rachael Wonderlin
Alzheimer's Reading Room

As a former director of a memory care facility and author of “When Someone You Know is Living in a Dementia Care Community,” I often get asked questions about memory care facilities and memory care.


When the time comes, caregivers for people living with Alzheimer's and dementia often become bewildered or confused about what type or kind of facility they need for their loved one.

The purpose of this article is to clarify some of those issues.

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Facts About Memory Care Facilities


1. “Memory Care Facilities” are always under the umbrella of assisted living, personal care, or skilled nursing facilities.


2. Sometimes they are stand-alone buildings, made up of residents who have dementia.

3. Memory Care Facilities are often wings or hallways that are part of a larger assisted living facility.

4. Memory Care Facilities may also be called “communities,” “neighborhoods,” “units,” “wings,” “hallways,” etc. They are still places devoted to serving people with dementia.

5. These units can be considered “locked units” or “secured units”.

  • Locked units have doors that residents cannot go in and out of without the help from a staff member
  • Secured units have doors that are alarmed, but not locked, so that residents could technically leave the unit without a staff member

6. Locked units are under greater regulation than secured units. Secured units should only be lived in by residents who are not an elopement risk.

7. Locked units often require that certain personal care items, such as poisonous shampoos or alcoholic mouthwash, be locked up and away from residents.


8. Memory Care neighborhoods are often more expensive than “regular” units and wings, such as “regular” assisted living, because residents require more care.

9. Memory Care communities offer specialized care and activities that meet the needs of residents with dementia.


In my opinion, the phrase “Memory Care” is a misnomer.

Not everyone who lives in Memory Care has a memory impairment; for example, many people with fronto-temporal dementia do not have poor memories, at least in the beginning stages of the dementia. Memory Care should probably be referred to as “dementia care,” and some companies across the country, such as Brookdale Senior Living, are beginning to do that.

Memory Care neighborhoods are much better places for people with dementia than other aging-care communities.


I have seen the benefits of moving someone with dementia from Assisted Living to Memory Care.

One of my past residents, Jean, was not doing well in her living situation at her Assisted Living Community. She was struggling to do activities, make new friends, and even eat in the dining area, which was overwhelmingly large and noisy. I suggested that Jean move into our Memory Care to see how she would do. Although her family was reluctant at first, Jean thrived in Memory Care.

Suddenly, she was doing activities at her own pace and skill level, making friends who did not judge her for her memory problems or ability to understand, and she was eating in a smaller dining room with care aides who understood her needs.


For more information on this and other topics about dementia care communities, I recommend checking out my book. I address topics such as
  • how to move someone into a care community, 
  • how often to visit, 
  • what activities to do with your loved one there, 
  • and even how to leave after a visit without causing a fight.

Memory Care, Alzheimer's Care, Dementia Care

Rachael Wonderlin is the author of Dementia By Day and “When Someone You Know is Living in a Dementia Care Community,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

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