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When Is It Time for Memory Care?

Written by Chloe Clark
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated June 22, 2023
Reviewed by Adria ThompsonAdria Thompson is the owner of Be Light Care Consulting and specializes in creating easily digestible, accessible, and practical dementia content for professional and personal caregivers.

When a parent begins struggling with memory loss and cognitive decline, the decision to pursue more advanced care, such as memory care, may be the best option. Still, it can be hard to determine when a loved one’s symptoms warrant a higher level of care. Typically, it depends on the severity of their symptoms alongside a few other factors. We’ll walk you through some of the most common signs it may be time to seek memory care so that you can make the best choice for your family.

Key Takeaways

  1. Memory care is a specialized form of senior living for those with dementia. It can include 24-hour care and supervision, memory-focused activities and therapies, and a secure environment.
  2. Specialized dementia care can be offered in different settings. These include a senior's own home, adult day centers, and senior living communities.
  3. There are many signs that a parent needs memory care. Be on the lookout for forgetfulness that endangers your loved one or leads to issues with communication, as well as changes in their emotions and behavior.
  4. Monitoring changes in your loved one is often the best way to know when memory care is needed. A Senior Care Advisor can help you understand available options and find a provider or community that’s right for your parent.

What is memory care?

Memory care is a specialized type of senior living that caters to those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. This setting provides the dedicated care and support that seniors living with dementia need, such as medication management and assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). Above all, memory care provides a safe, supportive, and social environment for your parent.
Other memory care services and amenities include:
  • Speech or occupational therapy
  • Accessible activities
  • 24-hour supervision
  • A secure environment that prevents wandering and/or allows for safe wandering
  • Specially trained staff
  • Symptom and health care monitoring

Signs it’s time for memory care

It can be distressing to notice signs of changing cognitive ability in your parent. However, Alzheimer’s and other dementias usually follow a scale of progression. Your loved one may not need memory care in the early stages of their disease. If you notice an increase in any of the following signs, or begin to notice them for the first time, it’s essential to discuss these changes with your parent’s doctor.

Increasing confusion or disorientation

Those with dementia may have trouble recognizing their surroundings or remembering their actions. As their condition progresses, these symptoms will worsen. While some level of confusion may be easily redirected, confusion that puts your loved one in dangerous situations may mean it’s time to consider memory care. This may include frequent wandering — which can become a more serious safety issue — taking too much or too little of their medications, and the inability to recognize those closest to them.

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Increasing or frequent agitation or emotional distress

Dementia can often result in a loved one having more extreme emotional reactions. Some of these reactions may be curbed through validation or redirection. However, more extreme mood swings and behavior changes may indicate a need for memory care. These can include agitation, depression, and anger. Agitation is one of the more common symptoms of dementia, and can lead to aggressive behavior, including violent reactions that may put your loved one and those around them in danger. Additionally, agitation can lead to a decrease in the ability to perform daily activities, which can ultimately put more stress on them and their caregivers.[01]

Declining physical health or appearance

A change in appearance may mean your loved one’s ability to take care of themselves has declined to a point that intervention is necessary, either from family or professional caregivers. As dementia symptoms worsen, your parent may have trouble practicing good hygiene. They may struggle to perform personal care tasks, such as showering, trimming nails, and brushing teeth due to a decrease in their mobility, or they may simply forget. Most often, though, they lose the ability to recognize when they need to care for themselves. Skipping meals and forgetting to take medication may also impact your loved one’s overall appearance. If you notice significant or worrying changes in your loved one’s appearance, it may be a sign of more serious physical and/or mental decline.

Losing the ability to communicate

In the later stages of dementia, your loved one may become more incoherent or lose the ability to communicate verbally. If you begin noticing that they are making more frequent language mistakes, forgetting more words, taking more time to process what you’ve told them, and needing frequent clarification, then it may be a sign of more severe cognitive decline.[02]

Increasing issues with incontinence

Incontinence becomes an issue with dementia when a parent forgets to go to the bathroom or how to use the toilet. While there are incontinence products that can help protect against leaks, they can eventually become ineffective if your loved one is unable to manage wearing and changing them consistently. Incontinence can become a health hazard, as both urine and fecal matter may cause infections when left on the skin for long periods of time.

Lacking the ability to respond to emergencies

At a certain point, your loved one may no longer be able to be left alone. Round-the-clock care is often needed when your parent can no longer make informed decisions for themselves. A crucial sign of this is when dementia patient can no longer respond to an emergency, such as not bandaging cuts, being unable to use the phone, or forgetting important safety measures, such as turning off burners on the stove. It is not illegal to leave someone with dementia alone, but it can be very unsafe for them.

Declining caregiver health

Unfortunately, taking care of loved ones can take a toll on caregivers themselves. This can be emotional, as it is stressful to see a parent’s health decline. However, it can also be physical. Helping a loved one with daily tasks, walking, and transfers can be demanding work. If you are beginning to feel the strain of caregiving, then moving a loved one to memory care may be the right choice.

Types of memory care

Specialized dementia care can come in many forms, meaning your loved one has options. While a memory care community will offer tailored, dementia-specific services, an assisted living community that offers some memory care services may be a better fit, especially if they’re in the early stages of their diagnosis. Dementia care is typically offered in three different settings outlined below.

Residential memory care

Residential memory care is similar to what you may think of when you imagine a senior living community. Residents reside in private or shared rooms, receive help with ADLs, enjoy nutritious meals, and participate in dementia-friendly activities. Staff members in memory care communities are specially trained in caring for and communicating with seniors who are living with cognitive impairments. This setting also allows seniors to lead a fulfilling social life, which can curb symptoms of isolation or depression.

In-home care

Some home care providers offer dementia care services that allow a parent to remain in their own home for as long as possible. What services are provided will depend on the level of your parent’s needs.
These services can include:
  • Round-the-clock care, for when there are more advanced safety or health issues
  • Assistance around the house, such as cleaning and cooking meals
  • Personal care assistance, for help with ADLs such as bathing or using the toilet
  • Skilled nursing care, for medical aspects such as medication administration
  • Companionship, which can be memory-focused

Adult day centers

When a senior loved one lives with a family member who provides most of their care, issues may arise around the caregiver’s career or when they need a break from caregiving. Adult day centers provide a safe place for your parent to receive the care and supervision they need while enjoying engaging activities. Social interaction, such as those provided by adult day centers, can be particularly beneficial for those with dementia in lowering agitation levels and feelings of loneliness.[03]

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What are the risks of delaying memory care?

There are many reasons someone may choose to delay memory care, from financial concerns to considering a loved one’s comfort. But delaying care can come with serious repercussions.
Some potential concerns can include:
  • Higher risks of infection stemming from improperly handled incontinence care
  • Increased depression or anxiety in your loved one, especially if they don’t have a support system nearby
  • Wandering, which may result in emergency situations when a loved one wanders in extreme weather or becomes disoriented while outside
  • Driving accidents
  • Weight loss and health issues, if your parent is forgetting to eat or unable to shop for or prepare meals
There are benefits of entering memory care earlier rather than later. Memory care offers a structured routine, social opportunities, and person-centered care. Having a boost in memory-focused activities and increased social interaction can be helpful in increasing positive emotions and feelings of stability for your loved one.

Finding memory care options

If it may be time to consider memory care for your parent, it’s important to first speak with their doctor to determine the severity of their symptoms. From there, a Senior Care Advisor can help you understand your loved one’s options based on their care needs, location, and budget.


  1. Carrarini, C., Russo, M.,  Dono, F.,  Barbone, F., Rispoli, M. G., Ferri, L., Di Pietro,M.,  Digiovanni, A.,  Ajdinaj, P.,  Speranza, R., Granzotto, A., Frazzini, V., Thomas, A., Pilotto, A., Padovani, A., Onofrj, M.,  Sensi, S. L., & Bonanni, L. (2021, April16). Agitation and Dementia: Prevention and treatment strategies in acute andcChronic conditions. Frontiers in Neurology.

  2. Alzheimer’s Association. Communication and Alzheimer’s.

  3. Crooks, V. C., Lubben, J., Petitti, D. B., Little, D., & Chiu, V. (2008, July). Social network, cognitive function, and dementia incidence among elderly women. American Journal of Public Health.

Meet the Author
Chloe Clark

Chloe Clark is a copywriter for OurParents. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, with a background in education and publishing. She has over a decade’s experience in writing for print publications and websites.

Edited byKristin Carroll
Reviewed byAdria Thompson

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