When it becomes difficult to care for someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia at home, you may want to consider memory care. Memory care is a form of residential long-term care that provides intensive, specialized care for people with memory issues.
Many assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities and nursing homes have special memory care “neighborhoods” for dementia patients. There are also stand-alone memory care facilities.
Memory care is the fastest-growing sector of the senior housing market, with the number of units doubling over the past decade, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, a nonprofit that tracks trends in the industry. However, occupancy rates plummeted in 2020 as COVID-19 ravaged many long-term care facilities.
Many facilities have struggled with staffing in the wake of the pandemic, and the quality of memory care units varies widely, says Megan Carnarius, a registered nurse and memory care consultant in the Denver area. It's important to visit and ask questions as you consider whether memory care is the right fit for your loved one.
What makes memory care different?
Memory care is designed to provide a safe, structured environment with set routines to lower stress for people with Alzheimer's or dementia. Employees provide meals and help residents with personal care tasks, just like the staff at an assisted living facility, but they are also specially trained to deal with the unique issues that often arise as a result of dementia or Alzheimer's. They check in with residents more frequently and provide extra structure and support to help them navigate their day.
Is your loved one ready for memory care?
Many people diagnosed with Alzheimer's can live on their own during the early stages of the disease, especially if a family member or paid caregiver provides regular, in-home support. But there may come a time when your loved one needs more care than you feel you can provide at home. Here are some questions to help you determine if it's the right time for a move.
- Is the person with dementia becoming unsafe in their current home?
- Is the health of the person with dementia or my health as a caregiver at risk?
- Are the person's care needs beyond my physical abilities?
- Am I becoming a stressed, irritable and impatient caregiver?
- Am I neglecting work responsibilities, my family and myself?
- Would the structure and social interaction at a care facility benefit the person with dementia?
Source: Alzheimer's Association
“In regular assisted living, residents are expected to manage their own time; menus and mealtimes are posted, but staff is not checking in on them,” Carnarius says. “In memory care, the staff ensures residents are getting to meals, coming to activities and moving on to the next thing.”
Because people with dementia are prone to wander (6 in 10 do so, according to the Alzheimer’s Association), memory care facilities have alarmed doors, elevators that require a code, and enclosed outdoor spaces to keep residents on site. Many offer tracking bracelets that give residents the freedom to explore but still allow staff to monitor their location.
Activities are designed to improve cognitive function and engage residents at different stages of the disease.