Alzheimer's care, also known as memory care, is full-time professional care provided in a residential facility to senior adults dealing with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other forms of chronic memory impairment. Though the specific forms of elder dementia may differ, the functional needs of senior adults living with these conditions are essentially the same.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, as are many other dementia or memory-related conditions. Therefore seniors dealing with these conditions need an increasing level of care and assistance over time. Naturally, many families and the affected seniors themselves prefer that they remain at home for as long as possible. This is entirely understandable, particularly since these seniors may remain physically capable and highly mobile, even as their mental acuity becomes more impaired.
That is one of the very reasons that families and loved ones of senior adults dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia are often faced with the difficult choice of seeking help from the professional caregivers at a full-time residential memory care facility. Alzheimer’s and chronic dementia can be extremely physically and mentally demanding for family caregivers, particularly a senior-aged spouse or child. This can impact the personal safety and quality of life, both for the affected senior and for the caregiver.
The unfortunate likelihood is that a person who suffers from dementia or Alzheimer's will eventually require 24-hour supervised care in a specialized setting. For people with early stage Alzheimer’s or dementia, an assisted living facility may suffice. Others in later stages will need 24-hour skilled nursing care. Some facilities combine both, so that seniors can first live more independently in assisted living, and transfer to 24-hour skilled nursing care if and when that becomes necessary.
How is Alzheimer's care different from traditional assisted living?
We’ve already hinted at one of the reasons that memory care facilities need to offer specialized care and services: the fact that many senior adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia—especially those in the earliest stages—are often physically strong and able. That’s why memory care communities must have secured areas to prevent wandering, a common trait of the seniors who live with these conditions.
Specially Trained Staff
All seniors want to live with as much independence and dignity as possible. Alzheimer's care communities should be staffed by professionals who have special training to help these seniors maintain their individuality, autonomy and quality of life. To varying degrees, memory care residents may need help with medications, bathing, grooming eating, dressing and other daily tasks.
Ideally, a professional trained in the needs of seniors with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia will design and supervise the slate of recreational, social and therapeutic activities available to residents. These activities can play a crucial role in enhancing and preserving residents’ enjoyment and quality of life.
Special Care Units (SCUs)
Some long-term care facilities offer Special Care Units (SCUs) designed to meet the special needs of people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. These are usually part of a larger care facility in which persons with dementia live in an environment optimized to make them feel more comfortable and secure. SCUs can have a higher staff-to-patient-ratio, one reason they are often more expensive than standard care facilities.
Some states require nursing homes and assisted living residences to disclose any specialized services their SCU provides, such as whether they offer specially trained staff or specialized activities. Contact the agency in your state that regulates nursing homes to learn what your state’s requirements are.
How much does Alzheimer's care cost?
The cost of memory care varies with the type of care provided. Assisted living will cost less than 24-hour skilled nursing care in a semi-private room, which will cost less than 24-hour skilled nursing care in a private room. Cost also differs by region. Where the general cost of living is higher, you can expect the cost of memory care to be higher, too.
According to Genworth’s 2016 Cost of Care Survey, the median cost for a one-bedroom unit in assisted living is $3,628 per month or $43,539 annually, and the median cost for 24-hour nursing care in a private room is $7,698 per month or $92,378 annually. These are median averages for all such facilities in the US, so pricing may differ based on where you live, the amenities offered by the facility, or whether you choose a private or semi-private room. Keep in mind that facilities specializing in memory care may also cost more.
Ways to Pay for Full-Time Alzheimer's Care
There are four basic ways to pay for full-time residential memory care:
Private pay (out-of-pocket)
Long-term care insurance
Many families pay for the cost of full-time residential memory care out-of-pocket. Check the long term care costs for your state to aid your planning. Medicare might provide some coverage, but it is usually only for limited periods of time following a specific medical event. Medicaid does offer long-term coverage, but eligibility varies from state to state. Check with your state medical services agency to learn more. Also, some communities may not accept Medicaid, which can limit a family’s options. For many, long-term care insurance offers a good way to ensure continuity of care at the memory care facility of choice. Do your homework, though, because several factors can affect your long-term care insurance costs and benefits.
The take-away is, if your family may someday face elder care responsibilities, whether Alzheimer’s-related or not, the sooner you discuss and plan for how such care will be paid for, the better.
What services are offered by Alzheimer's care facilities?
The services offered in Alzheimer's care facilities will vary depending on the type of facility. Assisted living communities will generally provide fewer services, while skilled nursing care centers will offer more. In general, basic services provided by all memory care communities will include:
Comfortable private or semi-private rooms in a secured area designed to keep residents safe from wandering
Busting Senior-Care Myths: Does Medicare Pay for Nursing Home Care? More than half of Americans think Medicare will help pay for their long-term care when they are seniors. This is a big and potentially costly misunderstanding, because people who think Medicare will cover their nursing home care probably aren’t setting aside the savings or buying the long-term care insurance they […]