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  • Jennie Johnson

What is a secured dementia care unit?

Updated: Apr 26



A secured dementia care unit is defined as a special care unit in a designated, separate area for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia that is locked, segregated, or secured to prevent or limit access by a resident outside the designated or separated area.

Secured dementia units are generally considered necessary for residents with Alzheimer’s or related dementias that are at risk of wandering, or display aggressive behaviors. They usually exist within Continuing Care, Assisted Living, or Personal Care communities that also serve other types of residents. Licensing requirements are overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.


If you or your loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or a related dementia it is important to discuss your likely prognosis for disease progression with your doctor. It may be worth choosing a community that includes a secure dementia unit, and has the capability to handle severe Alzheimer’s symptoms as the disease progresses, rather than risk another move at an even more vulnerable time.


What makes someone a good candidate for a secured dementia care unit?

Not everyone with Alzheimer’s or related dementias requires care in a secured dementia care unit. The secure nature of these units can be particularly helpful for patients in good physical condition with a propensity to wander. Patients with substantial mobility challenges, such as wheelchair users, are less likely to need care in a locked unit.


What are the drawbacks to a secured dementia care unit?

Secured dementia units tend to attract patients with severe dementia related symptoms and behaviors. This can make them an unpleasant place to live for patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or with mild dementia. This is not universally true, and you should visit and evaluate every community you are considering in person to assess for yourself.


How do I evaluate communities with a secured dementia care unit?

From a licensing perspective, simply having a secure dementia unit guarantees that certain staff have met minimum thresholds for dementia specific care training. It also indicates that the community is familiar with and prepared for taking care of patients with dementia symptoms. With that in mind, you should evaluate communities with secure dementia units the same way you would any other memory care community. Ask yourself:

  1. Do staff treat residents with dignity and respect?

  2. Does the community have a focus on memory care, or any memory care specific certifications and programs?

  3. Are residents at all levels of acuity provided with opportunities for engaging activities on a regular basis?

  4. What kind of training have staff received that is specific to memory care?

  5. If you are not moving directly into a secure dementia care unit, but rather another part of the community, what are the rules, policies, and costs surrounding that kind of transfer? Who decides, based on what?


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