Memory Care

Memory impairment affects approximately 40% of Americans aged 65 or older. Although assisted living facilities are well-equipped to help seniors transition smoothly to their new homes, for those suffering from dementia this type of care is not enough. If your loved one is struggling with memory loss or a health condition which impairs cognitive function, you should consider finding an adequate environment for them, one that will be able to handle, manage or even halt the progression of the disease. This is where memory care comes into play. If you are interested to learn more about this form of senior assistance, read the information below.

What is Memory Care?

It is estimated that the number of individuals with dementia will double by the year 2040. Although the overall lifespan of the population has increased, this rise comes with its own set of issues – including the decline of cognitive function. Moreover, seven in ten seniors over the age of 65 will require long-term assistance at some point in their lives. As a result of the demand for specialized healthcare, there are now facilities all over the country which provide extensive memory care.

This kind of assistance is a form of long-term care designed for people who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease or other health conditions that impair memory. Dementia care is an ideal option if your loved one can no longer live independently or perform activities of daily living (eating, bathing, grooming, dressing), and if they have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or any other type of memory impairment. As your loved one ages, they will need increased supervision and medical monitoring, as well as a social, healthy and safe environment where they can receive the help they deserve in order to manage their condition.

Modern communities are created to provide seniors with recreational activities, nutritious meals and personalized care in order to stop or at least delay the loss of memory. The locations are also designed to reduce the risk of patients wandering about or getting lost, as well as to decrease anxiety, confusion and depression in those struggling with dementia. There are specialized plans and procedures in place for each stage of the disease, which addresses and alleviates the behavioral issues associated with memory loss. Most services also offer guidance or assistance to the families of the residents and ensure a continuum of care for the patient, centered on therapeutic programming and the maintenance of mental functioning.

The Difference Between Assisted Living and Memory Care

When you are first looking into senior care, it might seem like a wise decision to enlist your relative for assisted living. However, if your loved one is dealing with memory issues or full-fledged dementia, it is important to learn the differences between standard support and memory care. The former provides a residence for the patient, three daily meals, a social schedule and personal care services such as help with grooming, eating, continence, bathing, toileting and transportation. It also puts forth at least a member of the qualified staff who is on-call 24/7 in case of emergencies. Depending on the location, you can also request basic medical assistance and accommodations.

On the other hand, memory care facilities offer all of the above, but also additional services focused primarily on alleviating the symptoms of dementia. Unlike assisted living, which takes in patients from all walks of life and with a wide range of health conditions, memory care caters specifically to seniors experiencing cognitive impairment, mental deterioration and memory loss. The facilities offer long-term care and have a handful of highly-skilled professionals who are trained in managing dementia and assisting sufferers at any stage in the disease. In addition to helping residents complete activities of daily living, memory care communities also provide full dining services, around-the-clock supervision and suitable activities that prevent boredom, isolation and agitation. Furthermore, the staff and setting are devised in such a way as to prevent safety hazards or accidents to which dementia patients are prone.

When is it Time to Join a Memory Care Community?

One of the most common questions amongst people with a family member suffering from dementia is “when is it time to enlist their loved one for a specialized facility”? The answer to this question is not straightforward and it depends from person to person, as well as on how advanced the memory loss is. However, there are several considerations to remember when making this decision. Firstly, safety and comfort are of the utmost importance to your relative, whether the disease has just been diagnosed or is in its late stages. This means that, as long as they are capable of making a lucid, responsible choice for themselves, you should respect their wishes and strive to offer them a home closest to the one they desire. On the other hand, if your loved one’s condition is advanced and you are not prepared, qualified or available to provide them the medical care and emotional support they need, you should consider bringing them to a memory care facility.

Secondly, medication should always be a priority. If your relative cannot look after themselves and you are not able to oversight their treatment and ensure that they are taking their medication regularly, at the appropriate time, then a memory care community might come in handy. The staff there is highly professional and trained to adhere to a strict treatment regimen, as well as to various health protocols that will safeguard your loved one’s wellbeing, prevent crisis situations and protect them from self-inflicted harm and the risks of wandering. Thirdly, seniors with dementia are exposed to a plethora of dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations. As a result of memory loss, patients no longer recognize familiar faces or locations and are prone to straying, misplacing objects or becoming lost. This opens them up to a number of hazardous or even deadly circumstances. Memory care assistance can help by providing a sheltered living space, as well as a secure, enclosed area where they can walk around safely, without the risk of wandering off. There is also 24/7 staff available within the perimeters, which can offer both constant supervision and medical attention when necessary.

Is Memory Care the Right Choice for Your Loved One?

With so many options available for senior care, it might be overwhelming deciding which one is right for your relative. Some of the most widespread communities include assisted living facilities, independent living, nursing homes, CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) and memory care for those with dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease (the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of all cases) and other memory loss issues. If your loved one requires permanent supervision, as well as consistent help with performing activities of daily living (grooming, dressing, moving around, eating, toileting, bathing, continence), then it might be time to enlist them in a senior care facility. The critical factor in determining whether you should opt for regular assisted living services or something more is your relative’s overall wellbeing and specific health conditions. If they are struggling with memory problems or have been diagnosed with dementia, memory care is undoubtedly the best, safest and most resourceful option for them.

What Types of Care are Offered for the Dementia Sufferers?

Memory care offered at residential facilities can provide a wide array of treatment regimens, personal care, assistance and consistent supervision. In addition to helping your loved one perform activities of daily living, the staff here is trained to ensure the residents receive specialized medical care for dementia or memory issues.

There are several brain disorders that memory care offers assistance and management for. These include: Alzheimer’s Disease (interferes with the normal functioning of brain cells and affects the cerebral cortex, as well as the reasoning and memory centers of the brain; this leads to irreversible dementia, for which professional help and supervision is essential), vascular dementia (or multi-infarct dementia, causes brain damage and is usually the result of a stroke; the progression of this condition can be delayed or even halted with adequate treatment), frontotemporal dementia (causes memory deterioration, along with behavioral problems, difficulty with language and dramatic changes in personality), Huntington’s Disease (a progressive brain disorder which induces an acute decline in cognitive function, memory and reasoning skills, but also brings about mood changes such as depression or extreme irritability) and Dementia with Lewy Bodies (brain disorder that prompts similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s Disease: gradual memory loss, issues with thinking and reasoning, imbalance; as opposed to the latter, DLB can be diagnosed early due to the initial warning signs such as sleep disturbance, slowness, hallucinations or memory decline, all of which manifest fairly early into the disease).

Communities which provide memory care can offer assistance with each of these health conditions, work on managing them or even curbing their progression. While in some cases it is crucial that the sufferer is enlisted for such a facility in order to receive proper medical attention and impede the disorder’s evolution, for others memory care cannot prevent or slow down the disease. However, it can still provide medical assistance (to make patients more comfortable and at ease), protection and security (when it comes to sufferers wandering or becoming lost), as well as emotional support in dealing with subsequent brain changes and a social environment where residents can bond and find companions or people who share their interests.

There are four main elements all memory care facilities provide: a safe and comfortable location, healthy food (three nutritious and tasty meals every day), recreational activities (games, dancing, social gatherings, educational events) and specialized dementia care. The latter involves a variety of features, including assistance with daily living, medication management (reminders, help with ingestion, schedules for inhibitors, antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs or sedatives), therapy (including aromatherapy and music therapy), regular exercise for cognitive improvement and professional help with language problems, behavioral and physical issues.

Certain facilities will offer additional features such as specific, dementia-targeted activities and exercise routines that help memory and cognitive function, as well as brain games designed to prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. Others provide art classes, health and education programs, animal-assisted therapy and life enhancement managers who schedule and conduct various recreational activities. There are also emergency call systems in place to handle crisis situations, housekeeping and laundry services. Lastly, some communities really go the extra mile and offer design features that are meant to help residents feel at ease or even help with recollection. Some facilities set up tapestry and interior décor (pictures, drawings, paintings, furnishing) that is meant to soothe the mind, connect the patient to the past and make it easier to remember and to access fond memories. For instance, the wall in the shared living room may have a variety of pictures of events that happened in the past or paintings of different locations (seaside, mountains, ocean and so on). These are meant to help residents become more grounded, to trigger pleasant memories or to spark up conversations and reminiscing. The artwork in these locations always has a purpose – to offer guidance and peace of mind for the residents.

It is important that residents are consistently engaged in personalized, individual tasks that match their interests and make use of their skills. Adequate nutrition and a proper exercise regimen should also be incorporated into their daily routine. A high-quality memory care facility will likely include almost all of the above features or at the very least will be able to make accommodations for your loved one.

How Much Does Memory Care Cost?

According to the 2015 World Alzheimer Report, the worldwide cost of dementia care is $818 billion and it is estimated to reach a trillion dollar in three years’ time. An assisted living facility will typically charge around $3,000 every month. Although memory care is significantly more expensive, it also offers more comprehensive, patient-centered services which are meant to fully accommodate residents with memory issues.

The average monthly cost for memory care is approximately $5,400 (this includes basic services and care fees). There are also individual, one-time fees such as location preparation or admission which can range anywhere between $500 and $1,500. In addition, the patient’s medication is paid for directly by the resident, their family or caregiver. However, these numbers will largely depend on a variety of factors, including the type of housing (private or common room), the level of care needed, the location of the apartment and the necessary medical supplies. The price will also vary according to state. For instance, the median monthly memory care costs in Idaho and Mississippi are somewhere near the $3,000 mark, whereas the average figures in Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts can reach up to $5,800.

What if I Can’t Afford Memory Care?

The costs for helping a senior with Alzheimer’s Disease is considerably higher than that of providing assistance for relatives without any form of memory loss. Because of this, you might not have the necessary funds for the right type of care. Even if you had a retirement plan in place or life savings to care for your loved one, dementia is a very demanding and hard-to-manage condition, both financially and emotionally. With that in mind, here is what you can do to lower your costs and receive the best deal when searching for memory care.

Always research thoroughly and visit the facility multiple times before making a final decision. You should get to know the location, the staff, the activities schedule, as well as witness the different services provided firsthand. This will ensure that your first choice is also the right one and will prevent any further complications and expenses. In addition, you can ask about price flexibility, compromise on location for a more economical option, consider semi-private rooms or look into assisted living loans that you can make.

Here are just some of the alternatives you can explore to provide financial assistance: Medicare’s benefits (health insurance program for people over age sixty-five), Medicaid (joint state and federal program that covers medical costs for individuals and families with reduced income or resources), non-profits and foundations for Alzheimer’s Disease such as “Family Respite Care Grants” (local organizations that help directly to administer grants for families in need), HCBS Waiver (Home & Community Based-Services, offer funding for long-term memory care), reverse mortgages (for Alzheimer’s patients which will require residential care and eventually leave their homes), respite care (for primary caregivers), state non-medical assistance programs (designed for low-income individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia or other related health conditions), Assistance for Veterans such as “Aid and Attendance” (can provide up to $2,500 per month as financial assistance for sufferers of dementia), Assistance for Medications (can help with receiving prescription drugs free of charge), long-term care insurance or life insurance conversions (if you are a holder of a life insurance policy, you can use it to pay for memory care, request a death benefit loan, sell the policy or exchange it for care services at a residential facility). Lastly, you can see if you are eligible for Alzheimer’s Care Loans and receive funding for a determined period of time.

How to Choose a Memory Care Community

There are many different factors which determine what the right memory care facility is for you and your loved one. There should be 24-hour supervision, assistance with activities of daily living, meal and housekeeping services, social or cultural events, emergency care, as well as medical assistance. But the most important part of finding a high-quality community is being able to look past the label or brand of the facility. You need to search beyond their marketed pitch, price tag or overall public image. Visit the community, spend time with its residents and staff, and understand exactly what services are being provided.

Cleanliness is essential

Do not underestimate the power of a calming, ordered and tidied up space. Aside from preventing diseases or other health complications, a clean, fresh-looking location helps residents on a mental and emotional level, and it also makes it easier for them to adjust to their new environment. Does the facility look well-kept? A pleasant scent, cleansed furnishing and cozy, uncluttered rooms are all important elements so make sure you don’t overlook any deficiencies in this area.

Do not compromise on the staff

The impact of the staff on your loved one’s emotional state, mental health and overall physical wellbeing cannot be stressed enough. It does not matter if your chosen facility ticks every single requirement you had and more, as long as the staff is inadequate your relative will suffer. When you visit the community, make sure to pay extensive attention to how the other residents are treated, how the staff members interact with them, how they react to challenging or crisis situations, as well as what policies there are on physical restraint. Neglectful, careless, impatient, reproachful or abusive staff members should never go unnoticed or be an acceptable option. When it comes to staff-to-resident ratio, the figure should be a minimum of 1 to 7 (preferably higher if the patients are in the more advanced stages of the disease).

Cost matters

It might seem like location is crucial and easy visitations should be a top priority. However, pricing is much more relevant than how near you are to your loved one. The truth is, even if going through with visits might be slightly more inconvenient if the facility is not as close as you wanted it to be, you can still work through that and be by their side as often as you would if the community was a short walk away. On the other hand, you cannot cover excessive lifelong costs for your loved one’s stay if you do not have the necessary funds long-term. You need to think of this choice as a permanent one that requires some planning and quite a few financial resources. As your relative’s condition progresses, you might need to make adjustments to your budget in order to accommodate further medical care. You need to take this into account when searching for a facility and come to terms with the fact that you might need to compromise location to be able to afford memory care in the long run.

Dementia care is multifaceted

When looking for a community for your loved one, you need to remember that memory care involves a wide array of different strategies of prevention, mitigation and management. It does not merely imply providing daily assistance, supervision and medical care. It also includes recreational activities that stimulate cognitive function, a specific diet tailored to slow down the progression of dementia, and an engaging exercise routine that improves mobility, balance and mental capacity. It can also incorporate aromatherapy, music therapy, calming interior design, comfort and much more. Each of these elements play a part in helping residents retain memory and be more at ease in the facility. So make sure you understand these needs and look for a facility that accommodates the highest number of features like the ones above.

Aim for as much security as possible

Of course safety is an important component of any assisted living facility. You want your loved one to not only be sheltered and away from harm’s way, but also to feel protected, at ease and included. However, for patients with memory loss, security is even more critical to their wellbeing due to the risk of wandering and self-injury. This means you need to pay attention to how quiet and shielded the surrounding area is, to what protection systems are in place for residents, as well as how the staff handles emergencies. Safety is best achieved in facilities which emphasize relationships and social connection. Designated care managers, staff members, as well as other residents can bond with your relative over time and provide them with a sense of safety and belonging that are crucial to those who suffer from dementia.

Listen to what others have to say

Researching and learning about a memory care facility can help you find the right community for your loved one and avoid the hassle of moving from location to location. Although reading online reviews can be useful, the best way to assess a memory care facility is by talking to the residents who already live there. Ask them questions about everything that interests you – from the quality and taste of the meals served to how the staff treats them when they have an issue or complaint. This will offer you invaluable insight into how the facility is, not just on paper, but in everyday situations and challenging circumstances.

What Do I Look For In a Memory Care Facility?

When you visit a memory care community, you should have a bullet-point list of requirements you look out for, as well as a few questions prepared that you can ask the staff or even the manager. The answers to these questions will help you decide between your final desired locations and allow you to determine if your loved one will fit in. Here are some examples of what you can ask:

  • Does the community care for individuals throughout all stages of dementia?
  • Does the community offer assistance for residents who suffer from different types of dementia or specific health conditions other than Alzheimer’s Disease?
  • Where is the facility located? Is it a quiet, safe neighborhood?
  • What security systems are in place if a resident attempts to wander or leave the area?
  • How noisy is the surrounding environment or does the building have insulation?
  • Is the outdoor area secure enough for residents to walk around?
  • How is the interior of the facility? Are the rooms clean, comfortable, pleasant, soothing and with good lighting?
  • Are there any locator signs around the location (for example, “bathroom” or “kitchen”) that helps residents find what they are looking for?
  • Are there any large clocks in the hallway or common room to help residents orientate and remind them of the time of day?
  • Are the rooms semi-private or private and how much does each cost?
  • What is the monthly rate for living in the facility (housing and care)?
  • What level of personal assistance does the staff provide?
  • What meals are provided for the residents and are special dietary requests permitted or accommodated?
  • What do the laundry and housekeeping services entail?
  • Are there any memory boxes (mementos and old photos) displayed to help residents find their rooms?
  • Are pets allowed in the facility?
  • What is the schedule for recreational activities?
  • What health, educational or therapeutic programs does the community offer?
  • Are there regular social gatherings and what do they entail?
  • What is the staff-to-resident ratio?
  • What type of training has the staff received?
  • How does the staff react to the following behaviors exhibited by a resident: accusatory or combative attitude, tearing up or crying, attempting to leave the building, refusing to eat, asking repetitive questions, aggressive speech, being confused about the place or time, having sleep issues?
  • How much does the staff know about each resident’s condition and personal history?
  • What visitation policies does the facility employ?
  • How does the facility communicate with the resident’s family (how will you be informed about your loved one’s health)?
  • Does the community accept special care needs?
  • What is the community’s discharge policy?

The Final Step – Moving In

After choosing a memory care facility for your loved one, you will be asked to meet with the manager and sign a contract. Always take the legal document home with you and review it alongside friends, family, a financial advisor or a lawyer. Once you have read attentively through each line of the contract, you are ready to give your signature and enlist your relative. You can learn more about how to help your loved one accommodate in their new environment by reading guides on how to ease the transition to dementia care.