image of Jessica Orth, Ph.D.

Want to know whether a long-term care community will likely include a special dementia or memory care unit? Geographic region, ownership and nursing hours are key predictors, investigators say. 

Some studies suggest that the addition of a memory care unit in a nursing home community boosts the level of care and improves resident outcomes, but data on the factors that influence their existence is lacking, wrote study co-authors Jessica Orth, Ph.D., and John Nagle Ph.D., of the University of Maryland.

The research team pinpointed locations of communities with memory care units nationwide along with measures of neighborhood socioeconomic deprivation, region, and level of rurality.

Among more than 13,000 free-standing nursing homes studied, nearly 15% had a memory care unit. However, the odds of finding such a unit were lower in the Pacific, Middle Atlantic and Southern regions by up to 69% when compared to the East North Central region. 

The influence of rurality was a mixed bag. The likelihood of finding a memory care unit in a nursing home increased between 25% and 47% as rurality increased when compared with nursing homes in the most metropolitan areas. But in the most rural areas studied, the odds of having a memory care unit decreased by 63%.

The within-state ranking of neighborhood deprivation, meanwhile, was not significantly linked to the existence of these service offerings. 

The odds of having a memory care unit were also found to be:

  • 42% lower in for-profit facilities,
  • 34% higher in chain-affiliated facilities,
  • 29% higher for facilities with higher total staffing hours, and 
  • 46% lower for nursing homes with more registered nurse staffing hours.

The results suggest that geographically tailored interventions could help to promote the use of memory care units in long-term care facilities, thereby improving overall care, the researchers concluded.

Full findings were published in JAMDA.