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What is the Difference Between Assisted Living and Memory Care?

A common area of confusion when exploring senior living for a loved one, is the difference between Assisted Living and Memory Care. Exploring senior living communities can already feel overwhelming with so much new terminology and varying levels of care. To add to that, Assisted Living and Memory Care can overlap and it’s easy to see why there is confusion. 

Memory Care and Assisted Living are similar in that both offer residents assistance with daily tasks. However Memory Care offers a very important distinction – a specialized therapeutic approach for individuals with dementia. The needs of someone with dementia are very different from someone needing help with basic daily tasks like housekeeping, meals or personal care. In Memory Care, safety measures, the environment, activities and staff training focus on addressing the specific health and safety needs of someone experiencing dementia.

Since memory loss is common as we age, you’ll sometimes find residents within Assisted Living who are experiencing a small level of memory loss. But for residents who are in the later stages of dementia, it is extremely beneficial to have Memory Care to meet their unique needs.

Innovative Approach to Memory Care at Clark

When a loved one is experiencing memory loss, it creates challenges for everyone involved. At Clark, we understand these challenges and have created a safe and welcoming environment that reduces frustration and focuses on what is possible. Clark has always been at the cutting edge of dementia and memory care in West Michigan. 

Montessori for Aging & Dementia

Clark was the first Life Plan Community in the United States to adopt the Montessori for Ageing and Dementia program. Led by certified Montessori practitioners and using the Montessori Method, Clark focuses on creating meaningful routines, activities based on interest, and building a supportive environment with memory cues for our residents. Navigating memory loss can be challenging, but incorporating Montessori principles can have a positive impact on those experiencing memory loss.

Music Therapy

For people with dementia, the part of the brain for speech is different from the part processing music. This is why those who can no longer converse or have memory impairment are able to sing a song from beginning to end. Clark’s Music Therapy Program, led by certified music therapists, provides not only therapeutic value, but comfort and happiness to those with memory impairment.

Creating a Supportive Environment with Memory Cues

At Clark, our Memory Care program is person-centered and emphasizes resident choice, independence and preserves the self-worth of all residents. We do so by creating an environment that supports and empowers older adults to be as independent as possible. Part of creating a supportive environment is using memory cues. Following are some examples:

  • Using green name badges for staff, volunteers, and residents. Green is the last color dementia patients lose the ability to see, making green the best color for caregivers to wear. Name badges allow residents to call everyone by name and feel a mutual level of respect.
  • Giving residents activities to help with things such as setting the table, handing out salads during mealtime, or folding clothes.
  • Activity areas are visually organized with the appropriate level of stimulation. There are interesting things to do both for individuals but also as a group.
  • The addition of signs such as “please put the puzzle together” or “please enjoy a snack” to act as a cue for residents to engage in activities
  • Wayfinding cues on posters
  • Room signs that include a picture of themselves.

Dementia Training for All Staff

All Clark staff who interact with memory care residents are provided Core Dementia Care Training, this includes not only our nurses and caregivers, but our housekeeping, dining and administrative staff. This training is a person-focused program that centers around enhancing the well-being of residents and reducing stress for caregivers. Core Dementia Care empowers Clark staff to effectively modify strategies to discover what contributes to the resident feeling content, engaged and enriched in everyday life.

Clark’s Dementia Care Philosophy

Focus on what is possible

It’s easy to focus on what has been lost when dementia causes changes in a person you love. However, we like to build upon what is present. 

Reduce frustration

Dementia can cause distress and frustration. We focus on alternative care techniques and therapeutic approaches to reduce this frustration. We try to anticipate the needs of each person before distress settles in. 

Engage and stimulate

Memory care typically focuses on physical necessities such as bathing, dressing and other activities of daily living. We also focus on enriching and optimizing each resident’s total quality of life.


We foster an environment of continuous learning and education for our staff and caregivers, and provide support and resources to family members and friends. Our goal is to normalize the dementia journey as much as possible for everyone.

Memory Care or Assisted Living: How to Choose

If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia and does well living independently and only needs a bit of help with daily tasks, Assisted Living might be a good fit. However, if your loved one struggles with daily tasks, needs support most of the time or you are concerned about their safety, Memory Care may be a better fit. One of the benefits of Clark is that with our continuum of care, a resident can easily transition into Memory Care as the dementia progresses. 

Assisted living might be a good fit if your loved one is:

  • experiencing difficulty getting around
  • having frequent falls
  • forgetting medications
  • missing social interaction
  • experiencing health issues, including memory loss

Memory care might be a good fit if your loved one is:

  • experiencing confusion and disorientation that puts them in harm’s way
  • declining in physical health and/or hygiene
  • wandering off
  • experiencing increased health issues
  • living in deteriorating conditions

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

If you think your loved one could benefit from Assisted Living or Memory Care at Clark, talk with one of our Senior Living Advisors at or 616-278-6520 or fill out the form below to schedule a personalized consultation to discuss your loved one’s situation and see if Clark is the right fit.

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