Life can be seen as a series of transitions. We transition from school life to working life, from single life to married life, from couplehood to parenthood. As adult children, we may have helped our aging parents make an important transition from their private home to Assisted Living. If cognitive impairment has reduced their functional capacity, it may be time for a transition from Assisted Living to Memory Care.
Why Memory Care?
Initially, you likely found Assisted Living the most appropriate choice for your parent. Perhaps your loved one had not yet been diagnosed with dementia, or perhaps he or she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and still did well in an Assisted Living environment. The Assisted Living community provided everything your parent needed—e.g. meals, social activities, fitness classes, transportation options, housekeeping, laundry services, medication management, and personal care assistance.
Because of the progressive nature of cognitive decline from various forms of dementia, your parent’s situation may have changed considerably over the last few years. While Assisted Living was fine in the beginning, your parent’s condition may now warrant a move to a Memory Care community.
Residents in Memory Care have more pronounced needs than those in Assisted Living. They may have difficulty eating, walking, or handling a wider range of activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing, brushing their teeth, or toileting. Their cognitive decline may cause them to feel lost and disoriented, and a decline in visuospatial abilities may make them more susceptible to falls.
A Memory Care environment is designed with safety, supervision, and a sense of structure in mind and can therefore better meet the needs of your parent with dementia. In most Memory Care communities, the staff-to-resident ratio will permit more attention than in Assisted Living. The ratio may be one staff member to every six to nine residents, whereas in Assisted Living, the number of residents per staff member is three or four times higher. Residents in Memory Care will receive more direct supervision and guidance and can enjoy activities tailored to those with cognitive and memory deficits.
Handling the Transition
In the best of worlds, your parent can participate in a decision to move to Memory Care. However, dementia often causes impairment in decision-making ability, so family members may have to spearhead a decision in the best interest of a loved one. Often a doctor or other healthcare professional can be an ally in this situation, explaining to your parent in a calm but authoritative manner why a transition to Memory Care is ultimately a positive move.
Typically, those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia become agitated or distressed by a change in their routine. Therefore, experts recommend your loved one make the transition to Memory Care on a gradual basis. As this article from Emeritus Senior Living (now part of Brookdale Senior Living) advises:
- Have your parent visit the Memory Care community once or twice a week, staying a few minutes at first and then working up to longer visits.
- Give your loved one the opportunity to meet the staff members and become acquainted with the other residents.
- If possible, give them time to share in a meal or participate in an activity.
By following this advice, a full-time move into a Memory Care community won’t feel as jarring.
The transition is easier if the Memory Care area is part of a broader Assisted Living community. If that is the case, your parent may simply move to a different wing of the same building or to a different building on the same campus. Under such circumstances, your parent can maintain existing friendships with residents or staff members from Assisted Living. If the transition occurs in one Assisted Living/Memory Care community, many of the amenities of your parent’s previous living arrangement—the food, the décor, and the layout of their room and apartment—may be similar enough to sustain a feeling of familiarity.
To ease the transition, the Emeritus article recommends setting up your parent’s new room or apartment in Memory Care to closely resemble the space they are leaving. Place the furniture in the same positions, bring in the same family photos, decorate the room with the same personal possessions, and so on. Do whatever you can to make the surroundings comfortable and familiar.
Visit often during the transition and encourage friends and family to do the same. As your parent becomes more familiar and comfortable with the new surroundings, you can ease back to a normal visiting schedule.
Moving to Memory Care is not easy, but with care and a loving attitude, you can help your loved one transition successfully.
SHARE YOUR STORY: How did you help your parent transition to Memory Care?