What Memory Care Looks Like Today

elderly woman needing memory care smiling in garden with caregiver holding hands

If your loved one needs memory care, finding the right community can be challenging — especially if you’re not familiar with what contemporary memory care is like. Take a look at how today’s memory care is helping seniors with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia thrive.

A Focus on the Whole Person
Memory Care Design Trends
Family Support
What to Look for

A Focus on the Whole Person

A central element of the Alzheimer’s Association dementia care practice recommendations is making sure care has a person-centered focus. What does that look like?

Rita Altman, senior vice president of memory care and program services for Sunrise Senior Living, explained that it means getting to truly know each individual so that they get the personalized assistance they need. Everyone has the same basic human needs and emotions, Altman said, including those diagnosed with memory loss.

“It’s really about getting to know the unique human being they are,” she noted. “What makes them happy or sad, what helps them cope, what stresses them out. For example, we ask residents and their families about how they coped with anxiety or anger before the diagnosis, so we can then help them tap into that previous coping mechanism now.”

To engage the whole person in ways that let them thrive, Altman said Sunrise residents participate in eight Live With Purpose signature programs for mind, body and spirit every day. She specifically cites their Live With Melody, which includes technology-based enhancements, community choral groups, neighborhood musicians who come to entertain, and more.

Memory care communities often engage residents in the same programming as the rest of the community, but it’s adapted to their cognitive and functional levels. Walking clubs, fitness or art classes are all ways memory care residents are participating in meaningful activities — just like residents in traditional assisted living or independent living.

Memory Care Design Trends

As the need for memory care continues to grow, existing communities as well as developers are looking for ways to accommodate that need in new, more effective ways. Here are some examples of how memory care is changing.

Outdoor spaces. Bringing residents with cognitive impairments into natural environments such as secure courtyards and garden spaces can help improve attention, awareness, verbal and nonverbal expression, and sleeping patterns.

Designing for the senses. Depth perception can be an issue, so contrasting colors on walls and floors can help residents move around and interact with the community.

Artwork can help with navigation and provide cues for where they are in the building. Some memory care residents are more tactile in nature, so having textured artwork gives them something to interact with and explore.

Altman said that in the Sunrise memory care neighborhoods, color schemes and art play a big part in wayfinding for residents. “They learn that they live in the wing with paintings of birds, or on the blue hallway,” she said. It’s a simple way to encourage independence and minimize anxiety.

Lighting. Many memory care residents have problems sleeping, wander at night or have daytime agitation. More memory care providers are looking for ways to improve residents’ circadian rhythms through lighting, including more natural light, as well as adjusting lighting throughout the day to mimic the natural progression of day into night.

Neighborhood environments. Smaller, more homelike settings are becoming more common each year. Whether it’s a group of single-story ranch style homes that house 5-10 residents, smaller memory care buildings with just 24 residents in each, or wings in a larger building that group up to 16 residents in a neighborhood, these environments provide comfort and community, with plenty of opportunities for independence. Larger neighborhoods are also fulfilling places to live when they have personalized small group programming to deliver a similar feel.

Incorporating technology. As technology continues to evolve, memory care communities are finding ways to incorporate it meaningfully in their programming, family engagement, safety and security.

  • High-tech solutions may include virtual reality programs to help residents reenact their favorite hobbies, like fishing, or to have a peaceful, calming experience to help them relax and reminisce.
  • In addition to pet therapy experiences, some communities have robotic pets that allow residents to hold and respond to soft, lifelike animals. Many communities use technology to gather useful information about resident activity. Altman said that at Sunrise, they can track a resident’s participation in different activities over time so they can recognize patterns and sometimes discover important connections. For example, they found a gentleman who was participating in baking activities multiple times each month, even though he’d never been a baker. In talking with the family, they discovered his wife had baked a lot, and he often found himself in the kitchen with her when she did. It may have been a way for him to resolve some issues or just feel connected to her.
  • Some communities are experimenting with wearable devices and other unobtrusive monitoring devices to help them keep track of sleep patterns, heart rates and location.

Family Support

Memory care communities today recognize the need for family involvement. “Memory loss doesn’t just affect the person with the diagnosis,” said Altman. “It impacts the whole family.”

Many communities will include the family in care planning and offer many ways to get support. From regular communication about the loved one to providing online resources or caregiver support groups, and even one-on-one support, you can find plenty of help in navigating the journey your loved one is on.

What to Look for

When exploring memory care options for a loved one, you can ask questions that will give you insight into how your loved one will live and be cared for. Altman recommends you ask about the following:

  • Consistency of caregiving. Ask if there are designated caregivers so the same people can get to know your loved one and take care of them. Consistency of care allows highly personalized care and increases the likelihood that subtle changes are getting noticed and addressed.
  • Caregiver education. Find out what the training process is like. Ask if it’s just classroom training or if there are skills demonstrations as well.
    Programming. Find out what a day in the life of a resident is like. Are they engaging them in multiple and meaningful ways?
  • Responses to behavioral expressions. How do they respond to a resident who seems agitated or is showing other signs of distress? How do they respond when a resident is anxious or upset? Do they just distract them, or do they enter that person’s world, listen with empathy, and go on a journey to discover the unmet need the resident is trying to communicate?
  • Dining. Look into how dignified the dining experience is. It should be similar to dining in assisted living or independent living. Are the tables beautifully set? Are place settings adapted to each person’s need? Is food prepared in a way that helps promote the highest level of dignity and independence?
  • Family involvement. Ask what the expectations are for your involvement. What can you expect from the relationship with the community? Do they have an open communication policy? Will you be able to have more meaningful interactions with your loved one, with more time to engage them?

Memory care has changed a lot over the years, and it offers so much more than most people expect. While making the decision that memory care is necessary can be difficult, know that memory care today can provide a fulfilling lifestyle for the one you love. To find a memory care community near you, use our community locator tool.

Memory Care Checklist


  • Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Care Practice Recommendations, 2018
  • The Memory Care Opportunity, Senior Housing News