Differences Between Memory Care vs. Nursing Homes (For Seniors)

June 05, 2024 | News | Reading Time 11:00 Minutes

When finding the right memory care for a loved one, people often ask:

  • Does the facility provide the right care?
  • How about the staff: what are they like?
  • Will my loved one be safe?
  • Will my loved one have the freedom to do what they love and explore new hobbies?

What’s more, with so many different types of long-term care facilities and options available, making heads or tails of which living options your loved one prefers can be even more daunting.

Families and seniors: we understand making the right choice can be tough.

Village Walk here: we’re here to help make your life a little easier. One of the most common starting places for answering the question, “Do I choose assisted living, home care, skilled nursing, or memory care?” is to start with two popular senior care facilities — memory care neighborhoods and nursing homes.

If you’re looking for the differences between memory care and nursing homes, you’ve come to the right specialized program. And if you’re browsing which long-term care options are available, you’ve also come to the right place.

At Village Walk, our senior living advisors and staff have more than 30 years of experience providing skilled nursing and memory care to seniors and their families.

Let the Village Walk team help you feel a little more comfortable about your decision. In this article, you’ll learn the differences between memory care and nursing homes, so you can make the best decision for you and your elderly loved one.

Quick definitions: memory care vs. nursing homes

A woman smiling with her arm around an elderly person in a memory care facility

To make sure we understand the difference between memory care and nursing homes, a quick definition is in order.

Memory care facilities provide specialized long-term care to enhance the quality of life for people who have dementia. Nursing homes provide the sort of long-term care you’d receive in a hospital-like setting.

While both memory care and nursing homes provide 24-hour care, supervision, and meals to residents, each care option differs in services, staff, practices, and activities provided.

For example, our memory care facilities offer 24-hour professional help with activities of daily living. Bathing, dressing, grooming, and medication management are provided to our residents in an attitude of graciousness and tender loving care.

You’ll have a better idea of the differences between memory care versus nursing homes in the following sections.

Features of memory care facilities

A group of seniors in wheelchairs in a memory care facility

A memory care facility provides specialized care to seniors with memory-related conditions such as Lewy body dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Residents in most facilities — including ours — receive person-centered care and help with daily activities. At our facility, we offer 24-hour security and emergency systems, scheduled housekeeping and local transportation, and home and landscape maintenance.

A key difference between memory care and nursing homes lies in the staff who work in memory care communities.

Staff: specialized dementia care

Many memory care facilities also have separate attached assisted living facilities. At Village Walk, we have two different wings in our facility — one for assisted living residents and one for memory care residents.

For all memory care communities, safety is a key priority (ours is no exception). Different types of senior living communities offer different facilities, but you can expect most memory care facilities to provide locked and alarmed exit doors.

Most memory care residences are designed to decrease confusion and create a more homey environment. In most memory care facilities, you’ll find:

  • Entrances with keypads for easy access for family and staff
  • Personalized signs and boxes outside residents’ room doors
  • Enclosed and walkable courtyards (we have a rooftop observation deck with an adjacent sunroom)
  • Communal areas for socializing
  • Color-coded walls and recognizable common areas 

Whether choosing memory care or assisted living, both care communities have a special set of procedures to ensure the safety and well-being of residents. Nursing homes — the subject of the next section — do the same.

Features of nursing home facilities

A sitting area in a nursing home

While memory care and nursing home facilities have much in common, the largest difference in facilities is that nursing homes provide 24-hour skilled nursing care and supervision for people with serious health issues and chronic conditions. Like memory care though, nursing home facilities also offer personalized activities.

But, with nursing home facilities, activity schedules aren’t usually as robust. Here’s what to expect with staff, services, and eligibility criteria for admission in a nursing home facility.

Staff and time: short and long-term care is available

Two types of care are available in nursing homes:

  1. Short-term care
  2. Long-term care

Skilled nursing care and rehabilitation services fall under the umbrella category of short-term care. These services are available to people who are recovering from an acute illness, surgery, or injury.

As a result, nursing homes may provide shorter stays than memory care facilities. What’s more, long-term care is available to people with cognitive disorders, terminal illnesses, or chronic medical conditions.

Like in memory care facilities, you can expect staff to be trained in the latest healthcare practices, albeit providing more intensive care to residents.

Services: Skilled nursing services

The level of medical care and services provided in a skilled nursing home and memory care differ. For example, in skilled nursing facilities, registered nurses and other trained professionals provide services under the supervision of a doctor or other health care provider.

Most memory care facilities can’t provide the level of medical care needed that nursing homes offer.

You can expect the following skilled services at a nursing home:

  • Medication administration and management
  • Wound care
  • Intravenous (IV) therapies
  • Therapy for respiratory conditions
  • Rehabilitative speech, occupational, and physical therapy

Eligibility: stricter criteria for admission

Another key difference between memory care facilities and nursing homes is the eligibility criteria for admission. To receive nursing home care, residents need a physical exam and a physician’s prescription.

Seniors are eligible for admission to a nursing home if they show proof that:

  • They need rehabilitative services and/or continuous, round-the-clock care and supervision.
  • They need help with activities of daily living (ADL), such as walking, eating, bathing, grooming, medication administration, and more.
  • They have a chronic condition and need help managing it.

Since nursing homes vary according to federal and state regulations, you’ll want to check with your state’s Medicaid and licensing agencies for more specific information on your state’s nursing home admission criteria.

Table: comparing nursing home and memory care services

Support providedMemory Care facilitiesNursing Home facilities
Help with activities of daily living
Managing medication
Physical therapy
Professional resident care and help 24/7Depends
Transportation to and from appointments and social activities
Flat laundry service (sheets and towels)
Amenities designed to reduce confusion and promote a sense of stability
Robust social activities calendar

Combining memory care and skilled nursing together

A man in front of a memory  care facility smiling and about to board a bus owned by Village Walk Senior Living

At this point, you might be wondering, “Are memory care and skilled nursing ever combined?” Yes! As a matter of fact, they can.

For seniors with dementia who also need help with other chronic health conditions, seniors can receive skilled nursing services in memory care facilities.

Two of the most common types of care living arrangements and situations that offer care for people with memory loss and other chronic conditions include the following:

  1. Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs): Many CCRCs offer independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing in one facility. Like the set-up at Village Walk, many seniors who were once in assisted living but now found they need extra care for a memory-related condition can move between different services as needed.
  2. Memory care units inside a nursing home: Some nursing homes provide distinct wings to help people with memory loss. In memory care units inside nursing homes, residents will often receive a higher level of care to go with their prescribed dementia care services.

While stand-alone memory care facilities may not be able to provide the level of medical care as that of a memory-care-nursing-home combo, many facilities offer specialized transportation to receive the right care. With nursing homes and memory care facilities, you can’t go wrong.

Comparing costs of memory care vs. nursing home care

In general, the cost of memory care tends to be less than that of a nursing home. On average, nursing home care costs $8,669 per month for a semi-private room and $9,733 for a private room (Statista, 2024). In contrast, the median cost of a private bedroom in an assisted living facility was $5,350 a month (Statista, 2023).

Nursing home costs tend to be higher than those of memory or assisted living care communities. In general, the location, services provided, and type of environment in each facility can affect the price tag of care services.

But, the good news is that most long-term care insurances can help cover some of the cost of living. You’re always more than welcome to reach out to a senior living concierge staff member for a more detailed breakdown.

They’d be more than happy to explain what’s included in the cost of each facility.

Memory care vs. nursing homes: which do you choose?

An elderly woman smiling and sitting next to a younger person who is holding a cat

So, what’s the difference between memory care and nursing homes? The answer lies in the nursing staff, services, programming, criteria for admission, and programming of each facility.

The great news is that whether you’re moving to a nursing home or a memory care facility, your loved one will receive top-tier care.

But at Village Walk, we do more than provide the best care for our residents with memory loss. We go out of our way to provide personalized care solutions that take into account each resident’s — and their family’s — unique needs.

To learn more about our Village and the differences between memory care and nursing homes  — or to schedule a guided tour — don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our friendly resident navigators. They’d be more than happy to answer your questions and provide you with exceptional service.

Until then, be well, and we wish the best of luck to you and your loved one on the journey ahead!

Frequently asked questions: memory care and nursing homes

A banner displaying a local bay with the Village Walk logo at the bottom of the banner

What should I look for when touring memory care and nursing home facilities?

When you’re touring a nursing home or memory care facility, you’ll always want to keep your eyes peeled for the type of care provided at each facility. Be on the lookout for the following:

  • The interaction between staff and residents
  • Whether residents appear well-groomed
  • The handicap accessibility of the facilities
  • If the grounds look well maintained
  • The quality of the services and amenities provided

You may also wish to keep a list of questions handy to ask the staff and residents. Many residential care communities have concierge staff whose sole job is to help prospective residents and their families better understand the types of services offered in their communities.

How do I pay for memory care vs. nursing home care?

Paying for memory and nursing home care can be expensive. Many families pay out of pocket by using a combination of Medicare, social security disability insurance (SSDI), and supplemental security income (SSI).

When should I choose memory care vs. nursing homes for my loved one?

While memory care facilities tend to be less expensive than nursing homes, nursing homes may be a preferred option if your loved one needs medical care for a serious and chronic health condition. Memory care facilities may be helpful for people with memory loss— for example, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Those who can live an independent life with minimal help may benefit from living in a memory care facility.

“I love most that I feel very safe here.”

A memory care resident smiling, closing her eyes in laughter, and eating food with a friend of hers at a restaurant

“I love most that I do feel very safe here at Village Walk. The people that work here, they’re very understanding and conscious of people. If they see somebody that might not feel too well — the lady at the desk — she’ll go right over to them.

I feel safe and comfortable here. And I’ve met a lot of nice people to become friends with.” – Grace, long-time resident at Village Walk Senior Living.