After considering all the alternatives, you’ve made the difficult decision that it’s time to seek long-term care for your aging loved one. The next challenge that looms before you is to ensure your aging parent or grandparent is comfortable, safe and happy.
Skilled nursing facilities or assisted living communities are good options for many folks, but if lapses in memory are creating difficulties, or if your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, a memory care community may be the answer.
The choice can be mind-boggling when your loved one is no longer able to live independently, but the following information will help you sort it out.
What is Memory Care Living?
Memory care communities are similar to assisted living or skilled nursing in many ways, but they are carefully designed to provide a safe and secure, comfortable, homelike environment for people who are living with the challenges of impaired memory, including dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Memory care communities may be located on a dedicated wing or a separate floor in a larger, skilled nursing or assisted living community, or they may be completely separate, stand-alone buildings. They are often smaller, which contributes to a less institutional, more homelike atmosphere.
What Makes Memory Care Different?
Memory care communities offer many of the same day-to-day services as assisted living communities, including help with bathing, dressing, housekeeping and laundry. The big difference lies in the specialized programs created to accommodate people with memory loss.
While every memory care community is different, most offer the following benefits:
Daily life: Although residents of memory care communities enjoy a certain amount of freedom, they are attended to around the clock to ensure they are safe and comfortable. Most communities offer a variety of activities such as art classes, games, exercise, music or supervised outings. Families are welcome to visit and participate in activities.
Memory care communities respect the personal faith and spirituality of each resident, and most offer regular church services, Bible study or other programs, depending on individual preferences.
Comfortable, attractive rooms: Resident rooms are often private, but semi-private rooms are usually available as well. Medical equipment is tucked away so rooms appear homelike and not clinical. However, there are a few important differences that help ensure safety. For example, rooms don’t include kitchenettes. Low beds, slip-resistant flooring and handrails help ensure safety.
Residents are encouraged to personalize their rooms with familiar items like family photos, favorite quilts, stuffed animals or blankets. Most provide soft natural light and a view of an outdoor space.
Strategic use of colors: The folks who plan memory care environments pay special attention to color. Too many bright colors, patterns and textures can be upsetting, so colors are carefully coordinated to be soothing, but not bland and boring. Many communities use color-coded hallways to help people navigate, thus reducing anxiety and stress. Natural light is bright and pleasant but never glaring.
Memory boxes: Many communities place a memory box – a small shadow box or display case – to personalize the entrance to each resident’s room. Each box contains a small collection of mementos and keepsakes, such as family photos, dried flowers, military medals, newspaper clippings, a baseball glove, family heirlooms, vacation souvenirs, seashells or other treasured mementos.
A memory box serves as a marker that sets a person’s room apart from others, but it can also be a source of comfort and pride, and a jumping off point for very interesting conversations.
Dining: Kitchens are the heart of the home, and that doesn’t change when people move to a memory care community. Cooking areas are thoughtfully designed so that residents can observe the preparation, and the aroma, of comforting, nutritionally balanced food.
Meals are served family style in a friendly atmosphere that invites socialization with other residents. Most memory care communities provide an easily accessible area where folks can grab a cold drink or snack whenever they like.
Safety and security: Residents are encouraged to move about and maintain their freedom and mobility, but a tendency to wander is common for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Memory care communities devise strategic ways to keep people safe while maintaining a sense of self-control, dignity and independence. Hallways are designed to reduce fear and anxiety and help people find their way.
Entry doors are discreetly secured, usually with a coded lock for easy access by staff and family. Personal rooms may have electronic transmitters that notify staff in a non-intrusive manner when a resident leaves the room during the night. Sometimes, gentle exercise or quiet music can calm a person who tends to wander.
Outdoor spaces: Exposure to the great outdoors can generate a feeling of independence, boost mood and relieve boredom and depression. Most memory care communities have some type of secure outdoor space, such as a spacious landscape with well-marked, obstruction-free paths for exploring, while others offer a comfortable patio where residents can relax, socialize, and maybe even do a little gardening.
Trained staff: Memory care communities are staffed with caring, compassionate people who understand the unique needs of for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Training ensures that staff understands special aspects of care, including how to communicate with residents and how to recognize signs of depression, anxiety or aggression.
Is Memory Care the Best Choice?
If you’re considering a memory care community for your parent or grandparent, the first step is to call and request a tour. Don’t hesitate to ask plenty of questions. If possible, visit more than one community before making a final decision.