As your loved one develops symptoms of memory loss, you will likely research Assisted Living and Memory Care communities to prepare for the future. However, you may also feel reluctant to move your parent or spouse to a community where the other residents suffer from much more severe cognitive decline. When is a move to Memory Care proactive, and when is it jumping the gun?
Lisa Price, M.D. and chief medical officer of InnovAge, which provides health and wellness services to older adults, offers insight into the timing of a Memory Care move.
When to Make the Move
Though every situation is different, Dr. Price notes a few general principles that have universal applications. “The best living situation is the one where your loved one can be as independent and as safe as possible,” she says. “It is important to identify areas where a loved one needs to be supported and work to meet that need.” Along those lines, Dr. Price highlights warning signs that may indicate a need for Memory Care:
- Wandering – Does your loved one lose their way, even in familiar environments? Do they consistently display exit-seeking behaviors? Wandering causes constant worry for caregivers for good reason; your loved one could get seriously injured. “Safe return program enrollment, door alarms, and tracking systems can help address this, but [these behaviors] indicate that a secured environment is needed,” says Dr. Price.
- Difficulty with self-care – When your loved one can no longer prepare meals, use the bathroom on their own, or practice basic hygiene, you should consider a change. Though you may make arrangements for help at home, Dr. Price notes that the presence of safety issues, such as leaving the stove on or the water running, may require the support of a Memory Care community.
- Agitation – Everyone gets upset from time to time, but pay close attention if your loved one expresses frequent agitation. “Recurrent, unexplained mood swings and distress tied to everyday events, like bathing or shopping, often indicate the person needs to be evaluated by a physician,” says Dr. Price. “If these cannot be diminished or managed, it often leads to caregiver burnout and may trigger a need for a higher level of care.”
- Caregiver burnout – Caregiver well-being (or lack thereof) is another key consideration. “When the caregiver no longer feels competent or is too overwhelmed to provide care for the person with memory loss, it’s time to explore other options,” says Dr. Price. While caregivers might feel guilty about relinquishing their role, it can be the best decision for everyone involved. “Finding and utilizing a qualified Memory Care program often improves the quality of life for the caregiver and the loved one with memory loss,” she affirms.
Finding the Right Memory Care Community
Once your family determines a move to Memory Care is in order, you must find the community that works best for your loved one. With such a variety of senior living communities available, some will suit your loved one’s needs better than others.
“Someone with severe cognitive decline needs very different support—from assistance with self-care to activities—than someone with milder impairment,” says Dr. Price. “A one-size-fits-all approach will not be successful.”
In fact, those in a mild or early stage of dementia may become upset or even depressed in a community with those living with greater impairment.
“A facility must be able to offer an environment appropriate to their level of functioning,” says Dr. Price. “If care is provided that they can perform themselves, it can be detrimental both from a cognitive and psychological perspective.”
Alternatives to Memory Care
“In-home care and adult day programs can be a great way to provide care and off-load some caregiving responsibilities, which often increase as your loved one’s condition progresses,” says Dr. Price, adding that PACE, which combines home services and day programs, is a good alternative for those who qualify.
Above all, Dr. Price emphasizes that education, planning, and communication are key to determining the appropriate timing for a move to Memory Care. “Communicating with your loved one about her wishes and goals, and developing a plan of care, will help you navigate future challenges.”
CHIME IN: Which warning signs have made you consider a move to Memory Care?