Iowa Residential Alzheimer’s Care (Memory Care): Laws, Costs & Financial Help

Last Updated: December 01, 2020


In Iowa regulations, the official term for memory care is “Dementia-Specific Assisted Living Programs.” These residences provide room and board, meals, and personal and health-related care including assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). Further, family engagement is encouraged, with tenants’ families empowered to be as involved as possible in making decisions about their own care.

Assisted living communities must be inspected and approved by the Iowa Health Facilities Division’s Department of Inspections and Appeals before they can admit people with dementia. The department says its regulations focus most on staffing, service plans, design, and safety. Those service plans, which explain how people with dementia are cared for, must include planned and spontaneous activities based on a resident’s abilities and interests.

There are about 150 memory care homes throughout Iowa. There are also 34 board and care homes, which offer the same services as assisted living, including memory care in some cases, in a smaller house-like setting. For free help finding memory care to meet your family’s needs and budget, click here.

 Did You Know? Over the next five years there is only expected to be a 10% increase in the number of people over 65 in Iowa, one of the lowest rates in the country. Iowa has one of the lowest average retirement incomes in the country, however, at about $21,000. This makes financial assistance to afford memory care (see below) especially important.


How Much Does Memory Care Cost in Iowa?

The average cost of memory care in 2020 in Iowa is $4,870 per month, which breaks down to about $58,440 annually. The state’s most expensive places for memory care are Dubuque and Waterloo, where memory care costs about $5,490 per month and $65,880 annually. Memory care is least expensive outside the 10 biggest cities, in rural areas where the average cost is about $3,960 per month and $47,520 annually. In Des Moines, memory care costs about $5,200 per month or $62,400 annually.

Iowa’s memory care costs are about equal to the national average, but some nearby states are more affordable. Iowans interested in looking across the state border might find less expensive options in Minnesota (where the average monthly cost of memory care is $4,540), South Dakota ($4,180) and Nebraska ($4,580). Southern Iowans should consider Missouri, which is the least expensive state for memory care, at roughly $3,450 per month and $41,400 annually. Iowa residents can receive free assistance finding memory care that meets their budget, even if those residences are located outside of Iowa.

Other cities and average memory care costs:

Iowa Memory Care / Assisted Living Costs (updated Dec. 2020)
Region / City Monthly Cost Annual Cost
Statewide $4,870 $58,440
Des Moines $5,200 $62,400
Cedar Rapids $4,800 $57,600
Davenport $4,980 $59,760
Sioux City $4,430 $53,160
Iowa City $5,380 $64,560
Ames $4,320 $51,840

Iowa Assisted Living Laws & Regulations

Admissions Process & Requirements

Within 30 days of moving in, every resident must be assessed for functional, cognitive, and health status. This assessment occurs at the residence, and must be updated at least annually. The assessment is used to create a personalized care plan that specifically details medical and personal needs (like medications and help with activities of daily living), as well as activities that are appropriate for your loved one’s mental and physical abilities. The cost of the assessment might be an extra “community” or “move-in” charge that also covers up-front costs like deep cleaning and painting your loved one’s room.

All assisted living homes in Iowa must provide documentation to potential residents that includes the following information:

– Description of all costs including potential additional charges
– Procedure for nonpayment
– The term of occupancy
– A promise to notify resident (or resident’s legal representative) in event of any change, at least 30 days prior
– Transfer or eviction criteria and process
– Procedure for filing a grievance
– Emergency response policy
– Summation of staff, including number of nurses
– Details of all programs that encourage activity and socialization for people with dementia
– Refund policy

Someone with the following issues may not be admitted into Iowa assisted living:

– Requires full-time nursing care
– Is bed-bound
– Is under 18 years old
– Requires two people to help with standing or going to the bathroom
– Has unmanageable chronic incontinence
– Is dangerous to self and others
– Has alcohol or drug addiction

More generally, no assisted living home can admit someone whose care needs cannot be fulfilled there. A doctor’s diagnosis of dementia is not required to move into memory care in Iowa.

 Covid 19-Related Rules for Admissions
All new admissions, regardless of Covid-19 status, even if they’ve tested negative, must quarantine for 14 days when moving into an assisted living home in Iowa.


Facility / Residence

A single-occupancy room (or living unit) must be at least 190 square feet. Double-occupancy rooms must be at least 290 square feet. These sizes exclude bathrooms, and every living unit needs a toilet, sink, and bath or shower. Two people is the maximum allowed in a living unit. In memory care, all exit doors must be equipped with alarms, to notify staff in case of a resident wandering outside.

Unlike some states, Iowa regulations do not say that dementia-friendly designs are required for memory care units. This means features like circular hallways that don’t encounter dead ends, and secure outdoor areas for walking and fresh air. For this reason, be sure to inspect any home you are considering, with an eye on whether your loved one will be comfortable within the space.

 Covid 19-Related Rules for Visitations
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Iowa’s Department of Public Health has said visits in assisted living should take place outside in accessible, safe spaces. Indoor visits are allowed, but IDPH has asked homes to install plexiglass dividers.


Staff & Training

There are no staff-to-resident ratios in Iowa, except to say that staffing must at all times be adequate to meet the needs of every single resident. Someone must be on duty 24 hours per day. All assisted living communities must be overseen by a registered nurse. Administrators must have six hours of training on Iowa assisted living laws. For all other staff, training must include, at a minimum, how to assist with activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living. Anyone working with residents with dementia must have at least eight hours of dementia-specific training within 30 days of hiring, and then annually.


Evictions & Discharges

Iowa regulations say someone can be evicted for becoming dangerous to self or others, and if their medical condition cannot be handled by staff at the residence. There is not, however, a state-mandated process for memory care evictions in Iowa. This means each residence makes its own rules about evictions and discharges. Fortunately, those rules must be provided in writing to anyone considering moving in. Be sure to ask for this documentation, and be very clear about exactly what it takes to be evicted before agreeing to move in.

For more information on memory care evictions, including what to do if your loved one receives an eviction notice, click here.


Financial Assistance for Residential Alzheimer’s Memory Care

HCBS Elderly Waiver

Iowa’s Home and Community Based Services waiver is a Medicaid waiver that helps cover costs including care within assisted living. It is designed to help people who need extensive medical care remain in their own homes or assisted living communities, rather than transferring to a more expensive nursing home. The waiver includes a Consumer Choices Option (CCO) and Consumer Directed Attendant Care (CDAC), though CDAC is probably more relevant to people living in their own houses. The waiver provides flexibility to shop for services that help with issues like transportation and assistance with ADLs. CCO, for example, sets a budget and allows freedom to find services within that budget. Medicaid cannot cover costs of room and board, but other needs including medical devices may be covered. Applicants should know there may be a waiting list. Read more about Iowa Medicaid eligibility guidelines for 2021 or take an eligibility test.

For more information, click here. To apply, contact your local Department of Human Services office.


Veterans Affairs (VA)

Veterans are statistically more likely to develop dementia. Relevant in all states including Iowa is the VA’s Aid & Attendance pension program for veterans and surviving spouses, which is an amount of money added to veterans’ and survivors’ basic pensions. Applicants must be at least 65 years old (or disabled) and require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) like eating, bathing, and mobility. The cash assistance from these pensions can be used as the recipient wishes, meaning it can go toward the cost of memory care. In addition, the cost of residential care can be deducted from one’s income, effectively reducing the amount of calculable income used to determine the benefit amount. The latest (2021) maximum amount a veteran can receive through A&A is $27,540 per year, and surviving spouses can receive as much as $14,928. Learn more here.

  Did You Know? As few as one out of every seven veterans who are eligible for Aid & Attendance money have applied to receive it. If you’re eligible, apply as soon as possible, because it takes an average of nine months to be approved.

There is also one veterans’ home in Iowa, in Marshalltown (about an hour northeast of Des Moines). The Iowa Veterans Home is a residential care facility that provides long-term care for veterans. In addition to nursing home care, assisted living and memory care are also provided to more than 500 veterans on the 150-acre campus. Payment for services is made directly from the VA to the facility. State veterans’ homes are typically reserved for veterans whose need for care stems at least 70 percent from their military service. Because there is often a waiting list, contact the home before visiting to see if your loved one is eligible to live there. For contacts and more information, click here.


Other Options

Other ways to help pay for memory care include tax credits and deductions like the Credit for the Elderly and the Disabled, or the Child and Dependent Care Credit (if you can claim your elderly loved one as a dependent). Remember also that medical and dental expenses can be deducted, and that may include some assisted living costs.

A reverse mortgage may be a good option for a married person moving into memory care, if their spouse continues to live in the home. Should the spouse move from their home, the reverse mortgage would become due.

Elder care loans are for families to cover initial costs of moving into memory care, if you need a little help at first but can afford costs after the initial payments. For example, if one is waiting for a VA pension to be approved or waiting to sell a home.