Criteria for Care

The importance of selecting a licensed memory care facility

By Devon Dams-O’Connor

Are the rooms decorated nicely? How is the dining experience? What activities are available?

While all of these questions are important to ask when touring prospective assisted living facilities for a loved one with dementia, the last and perhaps most important question is the one most often overlooked: “Does this facility have a license to provide memory care?”

It’s often up to families to ask potential caregivers directly if the facility is licensed to provide memory care, ideally before booking an appointment to tour the grounds in person. While the term “memory care” is included in scores of glossy brochures, the number of programs that hold this state-issued credential is very low.


“When families tour a community they’re considering for a loved one, it’s natural to focus on services and amenities that appeal to personal preferences,” explains Susan Goad, Admissions and Marketing Representative at Forest Hill Heights, an assisted living facility with a licensed memory care unit. “We may look at a community through the rose-colored lenses of a middle-aged son wanting the best for Mom and Dad, and make a decision based on aesthetics or a luxury vacation type of experience or what they would have enjoyed twenty years ago. While those amenities are lovely and sometimes incorporated, your loved one is in a different place and appropriate care is paramount for them to thrive. It’s important to prioritize what matters to them now and what will matter later—ideally, a place that can accommodate dementia’s inevitable progression to prevent the need for a disruptive move later on.”

-Susan Goad, Admissions and Marketing Representative, Forest Hill Heights

The next natural question is, “Why is a memory care license so important?” Simply put, the answer is that licensed facilities provide a higher level of specialized care that’s evident in every detail, from the way the spaces in the unit are designed and built to the number of staff present and how they provide the nuanced care your loved one needs.

To earn a memory care license in the state of Maryland, an assisted living facility needs to have a dedicated unit with its own space, staff, training, and treatment protocols specifically designed for the specialized care of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.

Click here to see Forest Hill Heights Memory Care Floor Plans.

Facilities applying for a license must also provide details about:

  • How the services of the special care unit are different from services provided in the rest of the assisted living program.
  • Staff training and staff job titles, including the number of hours of dementia-specific training provided annually and a summary of topics covered in the training.
  • Admission procedures, including screening criteria.
  • Assessment and service planning protocols, including criteria to be used that would trigger a reassessment of the resident’s status before the customary 6-month review.
  • Staffing patterns, including the ratio of direct care staff to resident for a 24-hour cycle (which is higher for dementia residents than for traditional assisted living), and a description of how the staffing pattern differs from that of the rest of the program.
  • The physical environment and any unique design features appropriate to support the functioning of cognitively impaired individuals, which can include things like keypad entry and secured doors to prevent wandering, and bright, wide hallways for improved mood and navigation.
  • Activities offered, including frequency and type, how the activities meet the needs of residents with dementia, and how the activities differ from activities for residents in other parts of the program. This might include providing ample supplies and opportunities for residents to do tasks and hobbies that are comforting and familiar.
  • Discharge criteria and procedures.


Licensed memory care programs are inspected every 15 months to make sure these important standards continue to be met.

There are a lot of hard questions surrounding the decision to transition a family member into a new home, and many are as tough to ask as they are to answer. But asking whether a facility provides licensed memory care is an easy one that helps provide the peace of mind every family is looking for when it comes to finding appropriate are for their loved one.

If you would like to speak to Susan call 410-893-3070, or to book a tour or receive additional information, click here.