Having a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be challenging in so many ways. If you’re a caregiver, you know how stressful it can be to try to give your loved one the care they require while tending to your family, your job, and other responsibilities – not to mention your own needs. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, 59 percent of family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia report high or very high levels of stress, while 30 to 40 percent have depression and 44 percent have anxiety.
At some point in your loved one’s dementia or Alzheimer’s journey – and in your own as a caregiver – it’s likely that they will need more comprehensive and specialized care than you can provide. Oftentimes, whether your loved one is at home or already living in an assisted-living facility or other senior residence, the next step in Alzheimer’s or dementia care is memory care.
What Is Memory Care?
Memory care is a form of specialized long-term residential care that offers structure, safety, and comfort for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia who need 24-hour care due to memory problems and other forms of cognitive decline. Some assisted living facilities and nursing homes have memory care units or communities. A freestanding memory care facility is different in that the entire building is designed specifically for, and staffed with professionals trained to care for, residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s who have memory issues.
How Do I Know If My Loved One Needs Memory Care?
“If your loved one begins to exhibit changes in behavior, such as becoming withdrawn or neglecting personal hygiene, or if they exhibit signs of confusion, increasing forgetfulness, disorientation, or a decline in physical health, it may be time to consider transitioning them to a memory care facility,” says Nora O’Brien, DPT, executive director of Willow Gardens Memory Care on United Hebrew of New Rochelle’s campus.
Other signs that your loved one could benefit from memory care, according to O’Brien, include wandering, incontinence, increasing suspiciousness or fearfulness, and aggressive behaviors. If your loved one is exhibiting any of these symptoms or behaviors, talk to their doctor or care team about whether memory care may benefit them.
“It’s also a good idea to do some research on your own,” says O’Brien. “There are many valuable resources online, such as the Alzheimer’s Association website, which has local chapters and links to other helpful resources.” Adds O’Brien, “It’s also important to visit your short list of potential facilities, meet the staff, and come with lots of questions. A good facility will be happy to answer all of your questions, even the difficult ones.”
Once you’ve decided that a memory care facility is best for your loved one, you need to find the right facility. Here are some things to look for:
- Proper Licensure
While some federal rules and regulations apply to memory care facilities, licensing and certification requirements are generally regulated and enforced at the state level. It’s important to know that not all assisted living facilities are licensed by the New York State Department of Health. Licensed assisted living facilities are held to rigorous safety standards in order to maximize residents’ care and comfort. Check to make sure that the memory care facilities you’re considering are licensed and certified by your state as a Special Needs Assisted Living facility or residence. “Our facility is dual certified as an Enhanced Assisted Living and Special Needs Assisted Living residence,” says O’Brien. “That means we have nurses on staff who provide a continuity and consistency of care and we provide a secure unit and specialized services for people who are diagnosed with cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.” You can find requirements, guidelines, and more on your state’s Department of Health website.
- A Specially Trained, Compassionate Staff
Unlike residents of regular assisted living facilities, people who live in memory care facilities require not only more care, but more specialized, personalized, hands-on care. Because of the level and intensity of care required, memory care facilities should be specially trained, says O’Brien. “It’s important that all staff members who care for residents are trained to recognize and know how to respond to the special needs and behaviors of people with memory impairment due to Alzheimer’s and dementia,” she explains. “So it’s essential that staff are not only skilled, but also patient and compassionate.” At Willow Gardens, for example, staff members from every department—including administration, clinical, activities, housekeeping, dietary and more—are trained so that they are comfortable and confident in interacting and caring for individuals with dementia.
- A Safe, Secure, and Aesthetically Pleasing Environment
Structure, routine, and familiarity are important for people with memory impairment, not just in their daily activities, but in their surroundings as well. Soothing images, visual cues, and art throughout a facility are important, too, as they can stimulate the senses and spark memories. The décor should be bright but not “loud,” with natural light where possible. The environment should be secure and allow for freedom of movement, with an easy-to-navigate floorplan.
- A Personalized Care Plan
When it comes to memory care, the importance of a personalized care plan cannot be overstated. If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, the disease will progress, so it’s important to know how their medical as well as physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs will be addressed both now and as the disease advances. Other questions to ask about your loved one’s care plan might include: What protocols are in place to address my loved one’s specific problems? What about co-existing illnesses or conditions? How often is my loved one’s condition evaluated? How often is the care plan updated?
- Activities that Stimulate, Comfort, and Enrich
Creative and enjoyable activities can enhance your loved one’s quality of life and are necessary for cognitive, sensory, and social stimulation. These can be a combination of group activities and individual activities, but they should be personalized based on a resident’s own needs and preferences, personalities, hobbies, stage of illness, level of impairment, and other factors. Activities may include admiring or creating art, playing or listening to music, pet visits, aromatherapy, excursions and outings.
Interested in learning more about memory care? We’re happy to help. Contact us.