Nursing homes and memory care facilities offer two of the highest levels of care for people with serious medical conditions. Older adults who need specialized care 

While they have a lot of services in common and are sometimes used in tandem to provide the right level for an individual, these facilities are intended for different types of patients. We’ll start off by defining nursing home care and memory care residences.

Key takeaways:

  • Nursing homes can provide skilled care for people with serious medical conditions while memory care facilities provide care for people with dementia. Both provide similar services, but for different populations.

  • The cost of nursing homes is higher than the cost of memory care facilities due to the level of care, but it can vary.

  • Medicare doesn’t cover long-term, residential stays for either memory care centers or nursing homes. It does cover short-term stays at skilled nursing facilities and home health care. Talk to a Medicare Advisor if you have more Medicare questions at 855-900-2427 or schedule a time to chat

What is a nursing home?

Nursing homes provide the highest level of care available and are intended for people with serious medical conditions who require constant care from skilled nurses. Because of the extensive level of care, moving into a nursing home requires getting a prescription and physical exam before moving in. Each state has its own criteria for entry into nursing homes.

Nursing home residents benefit from many 24-hour services, including:

  • Meal services

  • Medication management

  • Help with daily activities

  • Planned social activities

  • Rehabilitative therapies

Some nursing homes also have memory care wings to provide support for patients who suffer from memory loss. 

What is a skilled nursing home?

A skilled nursing home provides a higher degree of medical care than standard nursing homes. Some standard nursing care includes help with daily tasks like bathing and personal hygiene, but skilled nursing care can include more intensive attention to the medical needs of the community. This includes:

  • Physical therapy

  • Occupational therapy

  • Specialized care for those recovering from surgery, stroke, or serious health conditions

Skilled nursing homes can have short-term or long-term stays depending on the level of care a person needs. 

What is a memory care facility?

Memory care facilities are intended for patients with dementia. Like nursing homes, they provide round-the-clock care, but with an emphasis on memory-enhancing therapies and a safe atmosphere for those with memory loss. Memory care services are similar to nursing homes, like:

  • Meal services

  • Medication management

  • Help with daily activities

  • Planned social activities

Additionally, memory care facilities offer specialized programs and a structured environment specifically made for people with dementia. This can include memory-enhancing therapy, occupational therapy, and specially designed layouts to reduce confusion for residents. These facilities also offer support from caregivers trained in dementia care. Learn about Medicare coverage for memory care facilities.

Memory care vs. nursing homes: Key differences

Both nursing homes and memory care facilities provide high levels of care, but there are some key differentiating factors in their clientele, caregivers, and costs.

Clientele of memory care vs. nursing homes

The residents in both nursing homes and memory care centers both have serious medical conditions and require round-the-clock care. The type of care they need, however, is different based on their condition(s). 

For people suffering primarily from dementia, a memory care facility is the best solution to provide the safety and structure to treat, maintain their condition, and slow the progress of cognitive decline. 

For people suffering from conditions that require constant medical support, a nursing home is the best solution to treat and rehabilitate. Entry into a nursing home requires a physician's prescription and a physical exam. Please note that the specific criteria to gain entry into a nursing home can vary by state. 

Caregivers of memory care vs. nursing homes

The caregivers at memory care facilities receive specialized training to help people with dementia reduce symptoms and organize memory-enhancing therapies. They’re trained to address wandering and combative behavior and will help patients with art, music, light, and music therapy, among other activities and services.

The caregivers at nursing homes are nurses (or other licensed professionals) under the supervision of a doctor. They provide the highest level of care possible and are able to support patients suffering a number of medical conditions that leave them unable to take care of themselves.

Costs of nursing care facilities vs. memory care

Due to the level of skill and care, nursing homes costs tend to be higher than memory care communities. 

Pricing varies based on location and services, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $2,700 - $10,000 on monthly rent at a memory care facility. The median monthly cost of living in a memory care community is estimated to be close to $5,500.

For a shared room at a nursing home, prices vary based on location and privacy, but you should  expect to pay somewhere between $5,000 - $15,000 for a shared room—and even more for a private room. The median monthly cost of a shared room is estimated to be close to $7,900.

What does Medicare cover for nursing care, memory care, and home care?

Medicare covers some short-term care at skilled nursing facilities and home health care if you’re recovering from an illness or you can’t leave your home. However, it doesn’t cover anything for assisted living—whether at a nursing home or memory care facility. Medicare also doesn’t cover any form of custodial care (caregiver or nursing help with activities of daily living like bathing or getting dressed). 

How to decide which level of care is best

Change can be overwhelming, especially for seniors experiencing memory loss. When considering long-term care options, consider both the current and future needs of yourself or your loved one while keeping in mind that you can’t gain entry into a nursing home without a physician’s prescription.

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