Assisted living or Memory Care: What Does My Loved One Need?

Author: Stacy's Helping Hand |


Across the Denver metro area there are a variety of senior living care options. Each provides a range of options all providing varying levels of support- independent living, assisted, memory care, or skilled nursing. A simple google search of “assisted living communities in Denver” can bring a range of results. A Senior Care Advisor can assist you in untangling the results and understanding what each option entails.

For many, a trigger to senior living comes from difficulty living at home independently. Because of this, when families are exploring senior care they are often looking at either assisted living or memory care neighborhoods.

ADLS & IADLS: Understanding Your Loved One’s Needs

First, it’s helpful to understand the terms Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs). These terms are generally used to describe the care that can be provided within senior care residences, and the criteria to help gauge where a resident would receive the most appropriate support. When it comes to ADLs and IADLs for individuals with memory loss, it may not be that they can’t do these tasks, but rather they don’t remember to do them without prompting.

Activities of Daily Living include basic self care activities, shown below:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Eating
  • Transferring
  • Toileting
  • Continence
  • Overall Hygience

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living are tasks that require more advanced planning but help to manage the home and personal needs.

  • Laundry
  • Medication Management
  • Errands
  • Cooking
  • Bill Paying
  • Using the phone (or other ways to communicate and call for help! )

Assisted Living Facilities: What They Do and Don’t Do

Assisted living facilities are large residences with around 100+ residents. Assisted living residences offer assistance with all the ADLs and IADLs listed above. They have resident aides who can provide light assistance with these tasks. Resident aides are often referred to as caregivers or care partners. They may have experience as home health aides or certified nursing assistants. The ratio of residents to staff is usually low, with around 1 staff member to 8 residents (on average).

Assisted living residences generally offer medication assistance, laundry services and transportation to local appointments. The assisted living also offers engaging activities throughout the day; including local excursions at times. These programs are encouraged, but optional. It is generally up to the resident to determine how many activities they attend, and which ones. Residents also have the independence to come and go as they please, as long as they are signing out of the building.

Generally, residents in assisted living may have physical challenges, or mild cognitive impairments. Despite their memory loss, they are likely able to navigate their daily activities with minimal cueing and support. Assisted living residences are great for offering support for your loved one, while retaining independence.

Assisted Living Homes

Assisted living homes are a unique care option to Colorado. This type of residence is usually licensed to have 8-12 residents- significantly smaller than the larger assisted living facilities described above.

Since it is a home setting there are naturally more eyes on, individuals with higher physical needs or cognitive impairments may receive the support they need without the dementia specific care found in a memory care neighborhood. Staff can provide more attention to and likely develop a closer relationship with your loved one, helping them to know best ways to support them. In many cases, a person living with a cognitive impairment may avoid a memory care unit due to the benefits of more eyes on.

Due to their smaller size, they often have a more “homey” atmosphere. Engagement can be tailored to the unique interests of the current residents. Assisted living homes can be a great fit for someone who needs a higher level of supervision and support.

Memory Care Communities: A Special Approach

In addition to assisted living residences, the Denver area has a variety of memory care neighborhoods. These neighborhoods average 25 residents. Memory care communities may be neighborhoods within an assisted living, or a stand alone community. Memory care communities provide a higher level of support for their residents with cognitive impairments. They also offer the same assistance with ADLs and IADLs. However, their support is often in the form of cueing and reminders, rather than the physical assistance that residents in assisted living may require. The staff is required to have more intense training in supporting people with memory loss in order to learn best approaches to care for this population. For example, staff should be well versed in providing support for someone who may not be aware that they need any assistance.

The activities in memory care communities are geared towards people living with cognitive impairments. There is more encouragement for residents to participate in programming as it allows for residents to have increased structure- something that is critical for people living with a cognitive impairment. While there may be scheduled excursions and family members can take their loved one’s out, memory care neighborhoods are secured in order to decrease the chance of wandering and becoming lost.

The goal of a memory care neighborhood is to provide each resident with the support they need to perform at their best, and emphasize their strengths to increase independence. If your loved one is experiencing memory loss and benefits from significant encouragement, a memory care neighborhood within assisted living may be the best fit.

Finding the Appropriate Residence

It’s not always clear cut which is the appropriate level of care for your loved one– assisted living or memory care. Some individual residences may have their own criteria to determine which level of care an individual is best fit for. Senior care advisors are the key to finding the best fit and being your advocate throughout the searching process. Let Stacy’s Helping Hands help you to find the best fit. From Castle Rock to Aurora, all across Denver, we can help you navigate your choices and support you in making a decision.