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Memory Care vs. Nursing Care: What’s Better for Dementia Patients?

By Cheryl Harding, Ph.D. and Parker Foster

As the baby boomer generation continues to age, the need for senior communities around our country grows. One level of care many seniors and their families find they need is dementia care. There are two different types of communities – with different state licenses – that provide this level of care: assisted living memory care facilities and nursing care facilities (nursing homes) with an Alzheimer’s certification.

So, which one is better for your loved one with dementia? Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences.

How are they similar?

All memory care and nursing care communities are designed for people living with dementia should provide families a safe environment where they can leave their loved one and have peace of mind knowing they are receiving expert care. These communities should all provide medication management, meals, activities, outings and outdoor spaces to enjoy. Both types of communities can care for residents who have early-stage dementia fairly well – some better than others.

How are they different?

Compared to the similarities, the differences between memory care and nursing care facilities are vast:

  • Nursing care communities are required to have a nurse on-site 24/7 (plus a registered nurse on-site 8 hours per day), whereas most memory care communities only have a nurse part time. 
  • Certified Alzheimer’s nursing care requires a ratio of 1 staff member per 6 residents. Most memory care does not meet that standard.
  • Nursing care administrators must have a bachelor’s degree, go through a 1,000-hour internship and take a state licensing exam, whereas memory care managers only need a GED and 24 hours of training. The nursing home license requires the Administrator to have a Nursing Facility Administrator (NFA) License to lead the nursing home.
  • Additionally, the nursing care license requires:
    1. Front-line nursing aids to be certified through the state as certified nursing aids, which is a 100-hour certification. Memory care resident attendants do not have to have specialized training.
    2. A licensed nurse to pass out medications, whereas memory care permits unlicensed staff to pass out medications.  
    3. A social worker who leads a quarterly care plan with families and helps counsel them through the challenges of this disease; memory care facilities do not.  
    4. Physicians to do weekly rounds, whereas memory care does not.  
    5. A medical director to oversee the residents’ care, which is not required in memory care.

As you can see, the nursing care communities that specialize in dementia care must meet a much higher standard. Interestingly though, few nursing care communities do specialize in dementia care; most focus on short-term rehab and long-term care. Others may have an Alzheimer’s certification, which means they are designed to care for people with dementia, but often this is only a small part of their services.

Where can I find a nursing care facility that truly specializes in dementia?

James L. West Center for Dementia Care in Fort Worth, Texas, is one of those communities that has a nursing license and specializes in caring for people living with dementia and their families. We have five residential homes designed to meet the needs of each resident at their specific stage of the disease, and we care for most dementia-related needs. James L. West also provides 24/7 respite care as well as a day program. Plus, we offer around 20 classes of FREE dementia education as well as support groups led by a licensed counselor to help families who need guidance through this challenging time of life. Our medical director, Dr. Janice Knebl from the University of North Texas Health Science Center, oversees the care of each resident.

Whether memory or nursing care, you need to choose what is best for your family. James L. West is happy to help. Learn more about dementia on our website or by phone at 817-877-1199.