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Your Complete Guide to Memory Care

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What is memory care?

Memory care, sometimes called Alzheimer’s care, provides housing and 24-hour care for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Memory care facilities offer a safe, uniquely designed environment for residents with a focus on improving quality of life, reducing confusion, and preventing wandering.

But what exactly is a memory care facility? Memory care communities are residential spaces that cater to the specific needs of seniors with memory loss. Key services and features that make memory care facilities different from other types of senior care include 24-hour care, specialized staff, memory-enhancing therapies, a secure environment, and more.

  • Memory care services

  • 24-hour care and supervision
  • Memory-enhancing activities
  • Medication management
  • Laundry
  • Complimentary transportation
  • Nutritious meals
  • Incontinence care and toileting
  • Housekeeping
  • Help with personal care
  • Mobility assistance

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What are the benefits of memory care?

Memory care offers many benefits to support the unique care needs of seniors with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. This approach to dementia care helps residents maintain their skills as long as possible while providing enriching activities that stimulate cognition and improve quality of life.

Memory care staff provide care for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other types with dementia.

Benefits of memory care include:

  • A secure environment to prevent wandering
  • Experienced staff, trained in dementia care
  • Supportive dementia therapies
  • Unique layouts to reduce confusion
  • Low staff-to-resident ratio
  • Person-centered dementia care
  • Coordinated care with other health care providers
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How does memory care help seniors with memory loss?

Dementia is often progressive. This means symptoms worsen over time, often leaving elderly adults unable to live independently and causing tremendous stress and burden to families and caregivers. As the disease progresses, dementia behaviors and symptoms become difficult to manage, and living at home may no longer be safe.

Someone with advanced dementia needs 24-hour supervised care in a secure environment. In later stages of the disease, many people have difficulty performing simple activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and using the toilet. Disorientation, confusion, and sometimes aggression also tend to get worse, affecting seniors with dementia and those around them.

It may be difficult for family caregivers to provide full-time care for a loved one with advanced dementia while juggling other responsibilities, such as work and children. The physical and emotional stress of caring for someone with dementia puts caregivers at risk for health problems and decreased quality of life, and may lead to burnout. Memory care provides much-needed support for caregivers while offering exceptional care for people with memory loss.

Promotes a safe, calming environment

Memory care facilities are well-equipped to prevent wandering — a common but dangerous dementia and Alzheimer’s behavior. People who wander may get lost or hurt.

Residents’ safety is a priority in memory care facilities. Memory care offers a secure environment with locked exterior doors, so that no one may leave or enter unnoticed. These communities may also have keypads or doorbells at entrances and exits to help staff monitor who enters and leaves the building. Many facilities feature enclosed gardens or courtyards to allow residents to safely spend time outdoors.

Memory care communities are often designed to reduce confusion and disorientation, both of which can lead to wandering. Clearly identified spaces, personalized apartments, proper lighting, and reduced background noise are some of the thoughtful design elements in memory care. They promote a sense of safety, calm, and familiarity that helps residents relax and feel at home.

Memory care facilities are often a part of a larger senior living community. For example, many assisted living facilities have a separate wing designated for memory care. In other cases, memory care facilities are standalone communities exclusively for residents with memory loss.

Offers specialized 24-hour care for Alzheimer’s and dementia

Staff in memory care facilities receive specific, thorough, and regular training to provide round-the-clock quality care for seniors with memory loss. Memory care residents are often encouraged to be as independent as possible according to their abilities while getting the support they need.

A low staff-to-resident ratio at memory care facilities allows for more social interaction and time to care for each individual’s needs. Staff help residents stay engaged with social and enriching activities, like brain games and art classes, which stimulate memory and encourage seniors to maintain their skills.

Memory care staff are also trained to manage dementia symptoms, including difficult and combative behaviors, in a kind, compassionate manner, using specific dementia care techniques. A non-drug approach to dementia care and behavior management is emphasized, reducing the need for antipsychotic medication.

Coordinates care for memory care residents

Care coordination is an important service offered at memory care facilities. Community staff work closely to assess residents and plan activities according to their needs and abilities.

Staff at memory care communities may also work with other health care providers to ensure residents receive the care they need. Care coordination at memory care facilities may include:

  • Coordinating care with outside health care providers, such as primary care physicians, podiatrists, cardiologists, dentists, and more
  • Coordinating home health appointments for residents recovering from illnesses or injuries
  • Transportation to medical appointments
  • Medication management and diabetes support
  • Coordinating rehabilitation services, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy to bring services onsite as needed, making appointments more convenient to residents
  • Coordinating hospice care while keeping residents comfortable

Provides person-centered care for dementia

Many memory facilities offer person-centered care for seniors with dementia. These communities take a personalized approach to dementia care by understanding a senior’s preferences, past experiences, abilities, and care needs.

Staff in these memory care facilities develop a relationship with residents and family members to get a holistic understanding of the person who will receive care. This approach allows them to develop a customized dementia care plan to better meet the resident’s unique needs and support their health and emotional well-being.

Offers supportive therapies for Alzheimer’s and dementia

Memory care facilities often offer supportive therapies and activities for dementia that help with behavior problems by increasing relaxation, reducing agitation, and improving mood. These may include:

  • Occupational therapy to help teach seniors coping strategies to compensate for memory loss and cognitive decline.
  • Music therapy. Research shows that listening to soothing music or singing songs with dementia patients can help improve cognition and reduce agitation and aggressive behavior.
  • Pet therapy. Many memory care facilities provide pet therapy or have a resident pet, usually a dog or a cat, for companionship.
  • Art therapy, which is believed to slow cognitive decline and improve quality of life.
  • Reminiscence therapy, which uses sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound to help seniors with memory loss remember people, events, and places.
  • Aromatherapy, which uses scent to evoke memories, and may help reduce agitation in older adults who have memory loss.
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What’s the difference between memory care and other senior care types?

Memory care is one of the fastest-growing forms of senior care in the U.S. While memory care facilities offer many of the same services as other senior care types, there are significant differences.

Memory care vs. assisted living

Like assisted living facilities, memory care provides housing, meal services, supervised care, and help with daily tasks, including hygiene, mobility, and more. However, memory care differs from assisted living because it specializes in caring for people with memory loss.

This means memory care spaces and staff are well-equipped to accommodate the unique needs of residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia. This includes providing 24-hour monitoring, care, and supervision; staff that are knowledgeable in dementia techniques; specific memory-enhancing activities and therapies; and a secure environment for residents.

Memory care vs. nursing homes

Both memory care facilities and nursing homes offer full-time care for seniors with memory loss. Care for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia at memory care facilities and nursing homes both include long-term housing, meal services, medication management, assistance with daily activities — such as bathing, grooming, and using the toilet — and more. However, memory care differs from nursing homes in important ways.

Memory care focuses on improving quality of life for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia through personalized care plans and memory-enhancing activities and therapies. These dementia care facilities specialize in caring for people with memory loss through staff training and unique programs and building layouts to help increase residents’ well-being and sense of familiarity.

Important memory care features include:

  • Trained staff, who lead stimulating activities that help seniors use their skills. Staff are knowledgeable in dementia strategies and techniques to prevent and minimize wandering, sundown syndrome, and combative behaviors.
  • Personalized care focusing on residents’ individual needs.
  • Memory-enhancing activities that range from music and art therapy to sensory stimulation, aromatherapy, and more.
  • Secure facilities with keypad entrances for family and staff, and carefully designed areas with color-coded walls and clearly labeled spaces to help seniors find their way.

Nursing home residents often require more intensive care. Seniors who need nursing home care don’t need to be hospitalized, but may be debilitated, bedridden, or use a wheelchair. While the level of medical care at nursing homes may be higher, care often focuses more on physical care than memory care.

Memory care vs. other senior care types: What’s the difference?

ServicesMemory CareNursing HomesAssisted Living
Private or shared roomsxxx
Meal servicesxxx
Housekeeping and laundry servicesxxx
Social activitiesxxx
Medication managementxxx
Help with daily activities (ADLs)xxx
Exercise and physical therapy as neededxxx
Specialized care for patients with memory lossxx
24-hour care and supervisionxx
Secured entrances and exits to prevent wanderingxx
Memory-enhancing therapiesx
Transportation to appointmentsxx
Unique facility layout and design to reduce confusionx

Memory care vs. home care

Home care offers care for seniors with dementia who wish to age in place. It may also provide support and respite for dementia caregivers. Home care aides are trained in senior care and can provide companionship, help with activities of daily living, light housekeeping, cooking, transportation, and more.

While it offers one-on-one care tailored to individual needs, home care differs from memory care when it comes to social engagement and the specialized therapies found at memory care facilities. It may also be difficult or expensive to adapt your home to make it safe for someone with advanced dementia.

The level of care provided by home care aides is based on needs, and costs are calculated by the type of care provided. Home care fees are charged by the hour. This means that home care may be an expensive alternative to memory care, depending on how much care is needed.

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Is memory care right for my loved one?

Memory care is for seniors who have Alzheimer’s, another form of dementia, or other types of memory loss. Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s or dementia is progressive and classified in stages, which relate to levels of cognitive impairment and symptoms.

Whether your loved one has just been diagnosed with dementia or is showing signs of increasing cognitive decline, understanding what to expect as their disease progresses and the type of care they need at each stage can help you plan.

While some people with early- to middle-stage dementia may do well at home or at an assisted living facility, as dementia symptoms and behaviors worsen, many families opt for memory care. The specialized care and therapies available at memory care facilities teach coping strategies that enable seniors to compensate for memory loss, increasing confidence while keeping them safe. Memory care also provides a structured environment, with daily routines that help residents feel more comfortable as they cope with declining cognition.

Many assisted living facilities also offer on-site memory care. This means a senior with early-stage dementia may be able to move first to assisted living and later transition to memory care at the same community as their disease progresses.

Seniors with greater cognitive decline often need more assistance than caregivers are able to provide at home or at an assisted living community. People with late-stage dementia become unable to care for themselves, and need round-the-clock care and supervision to keep them safe and to ensure quality of life. Memory care offers a lower staff-to-resident ratio so residents can receive the care and attention they need.

The 7 stages of dementia according to the Reisberg Scale

Only a doctor can evaluate your loved one’s level of cognition. Below is an overview of each dementia stage and its associated symptoms and behaviors, according to the Global Deterioration Scale — also called the Reisberg Scale — for assessment of primary degenerative dementia.

Dementia StagesSymptoms
Stage 1
  • No cognitive impairment.
  • Although changes in the brain may have started, symptoms are not yet present or noticeable.
Stage 2
  • Mild forgetfulness, which may be associated with aging.
Stage 3
  • Mild cognitive impairment.
  • Memory loss that may be noticeable, but doesn’t significantly affect day-to-day functioning.
  • Getting lost in familiar places.
  • Problems finding the right words.
  • Forgets names shortly after being introduced to someone new.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Work performance may suffer.
Stage 4
Stage 5
  • May need assistance with dressing or choosing what to wear.
  • Difficulty counting.
  • Trouble remembering address, telephone number, or other personal information.
  • Disorientation related to time — inability to remember the date or year.
Stage 6
  • Pronounced memory loss.
  • May forget spouse’s or children’s names.
  • May be unaware of recent events, dates, year, or season.
  • May become incontinent.
  • Unable to perform daily tasks, like bathing or grooming.
  • Repeats sentences or behaviors.
  • Agitation, combative behavior, or mood changes.
Stage 7
  • Severe cognitive decline.
  • Unable to care for themselves.
  • Needs assistance with eating and toileting.
  • Inability to speak.
  • Inability to walk without help.

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When is it time for memory care?

As dementia progresses, it may become difficult to provide the support your family member needs at home. Memory care can support the unique needs of seniors with memory loss while keeping them safe and offering enriching activities that help them maintain their skills and a sense of self for as long as possible.

It may be time for memory care if:

As dementia progresses, it may be difficult to keep seniors with memory loss safe at home.

Assess the situation carefully to determine how long your loved one can age in place safely. Talk to their doctor, other care providers, and/or a geriatric care manager. Consider your loved one’s needs and your ability to provide care.

  • Can you keep them safe from falls and other accidents?
  • Do you feel confident your home is secure enough to prevent wandering?
  • Are you able to keep track of their medications and health needs?
  • Can you provide proper stimulation to help delay further cognitive decline?

Many families struggle with feelings of sadness and grief as dementia progresses. It’s difficult to witness your parent’s declining health and to think about all the memories lost.

You may also be reluctant to delegate the care of your loved one. When it comes time to move a family member to a memory care facility, the feelings of guilt may become overwhelming. However, delaying a move to memory care may present certain risks to your relationship with your loved one, their health, and your own.

You may also struggle with talking to other family members about your loved one’s care or telling them you can no longer be a caregiver. Seeking support to care for a loved one with memory loss doesn’t make you selfish or uncaring. Ultimately, you want what’s best for your loved one, yourself, and your family.

Focus on what you can do to help keep them safe and to preserve their quality of life. While you can’t change your loved one’s diagnosis, you can help by choosing the right type of care for them. Our Senior Living Advisors can help guide your decision by understanding your loved one’s needs, preferences, and financial resources to pay for care. They can connect you with facilities for in-person or virtual tours, where you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and see everyday life at the community. Once you select a community, a medical and skills assessment will be performed to get a full picture of your loved one’s abilities and needs so they receive the right type of care.

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What does memory care cost?

Memory care costs vary. Memory care facilities offer 24-hour care, specialized staff, memory-enhancing activities and therapies, and secure environments. Memory care also provides meals, housekeeping, and help with assistance of activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and toileting. All of this adds to the cost of memory care.

The average cost of memory care ranges from $2,000 to $7,000 a month or more. Prices vary depending on location, amenities, and care needs. While some services like meals, medication management, and group activities are included, others are optional. For example, residents may have access to laundry services, lunch outings, or beauty services, like haircuts or manicures, but these may cost extra.

The type of accommodations you choose also affects the price. For example, does your loved one need a one-bedroom apartment or will a studio be sufficient? Would they enjoy having a roommate?

When choosing a memory care facility, it’s important to understand how prices are calculated, what’s included, and what’s not. Be sure to also ask how often rates increase and whether a deposit or entry fee is required.

How do I pay for memory care?

You’ve done your research and decided memory care is the right choice for your loved one with dementia. But how do you afford long-term care? While many families look to savings to finance senior care, there are other little-known funding sources that can help finance your parent’s memory care, including:

  • Veterans benefits.A veteran or their widowed spouse may benefit from the Aid and Attendance program. If your loved one is eligible, they may receive a supplemental income to help pay for senior care at a memory care facility.
  • Home equity. If your parent owns a home, you may be able to sell it, rent it, or apply for a reverse mortgage to convert equity into funds to pay for memory care.
  • Long-term care insurance. Ask your loved one if they’ve purchased long-term care insurance. Depending on the terms, this type of insurance may cover their care at a memory care facility.
  • Life insurance. Check if your loved one’s life insurance policy may be sold for a lump sum to help fund memory care.
  • Bridge loan. Short-term loans can help fund memory care while you’re selling your parent’s home or liquidating other assets to cover costs.
  • Medicaid. If your relative qualifies, Medicaid may cover some expenses for memory care.
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How do I choose a memory care facility near me?

You may feel overwhelmed with choices when it’s time to find a memory care facility for your loved one. Memory care services and amenities vary widely among different communities, so where do you start?

Your parent’s specific needs and preferences can guide your decision. For example, if your loved one wanders, safety is a key priority. Or, if combative behavior is an issue, understanding the community’s approach to preventing and handling aggressive dementia behaviors is important.

Ultimately, there’s no substitute for visiting a community and experiencing a typical day. Touring a memory care facility provides opportunities to see the layout of the building, witness staff interactions with residents, try a meal, participate in activities, and talk to other residents. Most memory care communities also offer virtual tours if an in-person visit isn’t possible.

As you tour different memory care facilities, take the opportunity to ask important questions that will help you determine if the community is right for your loved one. Before the visit, create a list of questions that includes topics like safety measures, features and amenities, staff training, and more.

Below are a few factors to consider when choosing a memory care community for a loved one.

Consider safety features

Safety is an important feature in memory care. However, each community implements safety protocols differently. These facilities may use different tools and technology to monitor residents and ensure their well-being.

As you tour potential memory care facilities, consider these safety aspects:

  • What security systems does the facility have in place? Are entrances and exits secure? Are gardens and courtyards enclosed?
  • Do private rooms have emergency alerts in case residents fall or need help?
  • Are spaces accessible? Are doors wide enough for wheelchairs access? Are handrails in place? Are hallways well-lit?

Learn about staff expertise and staff-to-resident ratio

Seniors with cognitive impairment need support and attention throughout the day. Experienced staff who understand dementia symptoms and behaviors, and know how to address them effectively and compassionately, can make a big difference in your loved one’s quality of life at a memory care facility.

As you research memory care communities in your area, look for information on staff training and experience in caring for seniors with memory loss. You may want to ask about:

  • Facility accreditation and staff certification
  • Staff-to-resident ratio
  • The type of training staff receive
  • Programs and activities for residents
  • How specific situations, such as combative behavior, are handled

Understand dementia care plans, programs, and activities

A person-centered approach in dementia care means care is personalized to support individual needs. Many memory care facilities offer customized care. Programs and activities are planned according to residents’ needs and interests.

It’s important to understand how dementia care plans are developed:

  • Do staff take the time to get to know residents?
  • Are residents’ interests and level of cognition taken into consideration when planning activities?
  • How often are care plans updated? As dementia progresses, individual needs change.

Notice memory care layouts as you tour facilities

Many dementia and Alzheimer’s care facilities are designed to feel more like home. Floor plans are easy to navigate, with clearly marked exits and labeled rooms. Some communities also feature soundproof walls, which may help reduce agitation and confusion.

When touring different memory care facilities, keep an eye out for these details. A thoughtful building layout can aid in your loved one’s transition to the community.

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How do I move a loved one to memory care?

Moving someone with dementia can be daunting. You may feel nervous about your decision to move your loved one to memory care, wonder if the move will be traumatic, or worry about whether your relative will adapt.

You may also be struggling with how to talk with your loved one about moving to a memory care facility. Other tasks such as selling your loved one’s home, planning to downsize, and packing may add to your stress.

Taking a step-by-step approach and getting professional moving and coordination help can ease anxiety and ease the transition to memory care for you and your loved one.

Talking to a loved one with dementia about moving to memory care

You may be dreading talking to your senior relative with dementia about moving. While it’s true that changes in routine can be difficult for people with memory loss, you may help the transition by sharing the right information at the right time. Learning strategies to better communicate with someone with dementia can go a long way.

Consider carefully how much information to share. While some seniors prefer to be involved in decision making, others with lower cognitive ability may become more confused and suspicious. Avoid telling your loved one that they’re moving because they need more help. Many people with advanced dementia are unaware of their symptoms or disease. Lean on memory care staff expertise for tips and advice on how to start the conversation, and be sure to ask whether transition programs are available to get seniors acquainted with staff and the community.

  • 10 Tips to Better Communicate With Someone With Dementia
  • Limit potential distractions, such as TV or music
  • Speak naturally and use gestures
  • Use your name and others’ names
  • Talk about one thing at a time
  • Use nonverbal cues, such as eye contact or a smile
  • Avoid overwhelming questions
  • Communicate with creativity, using visuals, songs, and smells
  • Be patient and avoid interrupting
  • Understand there will be good days and bad days
  • Recognize communication can be difficult

Downsizing before moving to a memory care facility

Helping your senior loved one downsize before moving to memory care can be an emotional task. Belongings may be filled with treasured memories that you don’t want to let go.

Before deciding what to take and what to leave behind, it’s important to understand the space your loved one will have after they move. Avoid taking too many unnecessary items. Instead, consider these questions:

  • What items are important to your loved one on a daily basis?
  • What items would help make their new space feel like home?
  • What items would help elicit positive memories?

Getting moving help

If the practical side of moving your loved one to memory care is increasing your stress, plan ahead and consider getting expert assistance. This is a big transition and you need all the help you can get.

Start with these tips to make moving a little easier:

  • Schedule the move according to your loved one’s disposition. If they’re usually in a better mood in the morning, plan to schedule the move early in the day. Avoid later afternoon or early evening as many people with dementia get more agitated and confused later in the day.
  • Consider hiring a senior move manager. Senior move managers specialize in helping seniors downsize, relocate, and move. Delegating what can be an emotional task may help reduce tension, prevent family conflicts, and ease the burden on families and caregivers.
  • Plan transportation for move day. This is especially important if your senior loved one is relocating to live closer to you or other family members. Consider who will accompany them, what type or transportation is most comfortable and least likely to cause confusion and agitation, and be sure to plan for extra time if mobility is an issue.
  • Consider whether you need a geriatric care manager. These licensed professionals can help identify care needs, develop a senior care plan, coordinate medical care among several providers, lead and guide difficult family conversations, and more. If your loved one is relocating, a geriatric care manager can help coordinate health care needs, transfer prescriptions, and contact insurance providers to relieve caregiver burden.
  • Unpack and organize their room before they arrive. Make your loved one’s new space feel like home with familiar items and photos of family and friends. Arrange their belongings in a way that reminds them of their previous home. Avoid cluttering the room. Instead, try to create a calming, comfortable space for your loved one.

The dos and dont’s of moving someone with dementia

Visit the community with your loved one before the move.Tell your loved one about the move too much in advance to avoid anxiety.
Get help from professionals who are knowledgeable about moving seniors.Do it alone if it’s too stressful or overwhelming.
Observe what few items are important to your loved one and be sure to pack them.Involve your relative in planning or deciding what to pack.
Plan to move during the time of day your loved one is calmest.Move late in the afternoon or evening if your loved one is more agitated with sundown.
Unpack and organize your loved one’s room at the facility before they arrive.Plan to have your loved one help with unpacking.
Visit the community with your loved one before the move.Tell your loved one about the move too much in advance to avoid anxiety.

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How do I ease my loved one's transition to a memory care facility?

When moving a loved one to memory care, it’s important to be realistic about your expectations. Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia often get confused, and changes in routine may increase stress. Understand that it may take some time for your loved one to adapt.

Be optimistic about the move and the facility to help encourage your senior loved one. Focus on positive aspects, such as the programs and activities, quality of care, and social interactions.

You’ve done your research and found the right memory care community for your loved one. Find comfort in knowing that providing the right type of care helps improve their quality of life, and take steps to help your family member transition.

  • Tips to ease your relative’s transition to memory care
  • Set realistic expectations. Understand that change can be difficult, and it may take time to adjust to a new environment and routine.
  • Make their space feel like home. Arrange your loved one’s environment to make it feel familiar with photos of family and friends and favorite knick-knacks.
  • Trust staff expertise. Staff at memory care facilities are experienced and trained in dementia care. Lean on their expertise to help your parent adjust.
  • Participate in your loved one’s care. Discuss your loved one’s specific needs, health conditions, hobbies, and preferences with facility staff before the move, and establish a communication plan so you can keep track of their care after the move.
  • Create a plan to stay connected. Stay in touch and visit regularly. Work with family members to create a visitation schedule in person or virtually. Be sure to also allow your relative time to adjust without you.
  • Stay positive. Focus on the positives, like fun or enriching activities, opportunities for socialization, and different meals. Reassure your relative about the facility and the care they will receive.
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How do I find a memory care facility near me?

If you’re unsure about how to start your search, our Senior Living Advisors can help connect you with memory care communities in your area. Our local senior living experts who can help you consider your loved one’s needs, your expectations for care, and your financial resources to find the right care for your loved one.

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