What is Memory Care?

When care at home is no longer adequate for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it may be time to move to a long-term facility outside the home.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” formula for choosing the right care. Their organization offers help navigating what can be a complex set of options.

Bill Cohen, a certified senior advisor and caregiving support consultant with Cohen Caregiving Support Consultants, LLC, says his care for his mother made him aware of the struggles of other families trying to choose the right place for their loved ones.

“My decisions started after she lost her home in Katrina and her dementia became more apparent. While working full-time, I handled her affairs long-distance and then in Oregon. I had to move her from assisted living into memory care when she exhibited increased agitation, dangerous behaviors and exiting. Although I was in denial, I realized she needed to be in a secure place with constant care. I advise families that their situation may be different or similar to mine, but the considerations are the same. There are more options than before but it is still an emotional decision where the exact time to make it is imprecise.”

So what exactly is memory care? It is a “subset of assisted living and nursing home care” that provides “intensive, specialized care” for people with memory issues.

The care can be provided in a variety of settings both as a stand-alone program or located in parts of other facilities in “neighborhoods,” special units or sections.

Be aware that each state has different regulations and licensing requirements for senior care facilities and definitions and descriptions may vary state-to-state.

Types of long-term care

According to the Aging and Disability Resource Connection of Oregon, options include:

  • Adult foster/care homes (licensed single-family settings with care for up to five people.)
  • Assisted living and residential care facilities (licensed settings providing housing and care services to six or more people.)
  • Nursing facilities (give licensed 24-hour supervised nursing care).
  • Memory care (communities are environments where staff care for people with dementia who have needs that require a more secure setting.) Each setting is licensed by the state as either a residential care, assisted living or nursing facility. Oregon also requires memory care facilities to train staff to care for residents with dementia and provide specialized services.

Rules surrounding memory care training for facility staff also vary state-by-state.

When is it time?

When deciding if it is time to move a loved one into care, consider these five “behaviors or circumstances.”

  • Changes in behavior
  • Confusion and disorientation that could impact safety
  • A decline in physical health
  • A caregiver’s deterioration
  • Incontinence

Choosing the right place is a big decision, says the National Institute on Aging. They offer step-by-step help so you can know what to ask as you gather information and schedule visits.

What to ask

When touring facilities, “use all your senses” Theresa Sullivan Barger writes in Next Avenue.

Barger suggests these and other questions while touring:

  • What is the staff-to-resident ratio?
  • How are meals served?
  • What can of dementia training does the staff receive?

Places with visiting pets, art classes, entertainment and exercise will give loved ones important social interaction, experts say. Barger writes that her mom now enjoys gardening and recorded music by her beloved tenor, Andrea Bocelli.

Photo: Laura Louise Grimsley

Memory Care Resources

Oregon, California and Florida state governments offer helpful guidance about local long-term care resources.

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