Memory care communities offer the same services as assisted living facilities — plus a higher level of skilled care and supervision as well as activities that are intended to stimulate the memory of those with dementia and possibly slow the progression of the disease.
They can take many forms and exist within various types of residential care, including assisted living communities, but typically include trained staff, specialized activities, and the ability of the staff to care for residents with behavioral needs.
Here’s a look at five common features of a memory care community.
1. Safety and Security
Memory care communities have specific features in place to encourage and support independence while also promoting safety.
“Oftentimes, memory care apartments look just like assisted living apartments to give the same feeling of home — but with inactive stovetops for safety,” says Carrie Wilson, who is director of the Reflections Memory Program at the Ivy at Ellington.
Generally, safety checks are done more frequently in memory care communities, and the staff put an extra emphasis on security to prevent residents from wandering, which is common in those with more advanced dementia. Some communities are even designed in a circular layout and have an outdoor enclosed courtyard so residents can explore without getting lost.
2. Highly-Trained Staff
Memory care communities typically require a higher staff-to-resident ratio to adequately provide the care needed for persons with dementia. The staff is trained to assist with activities of daily living as well as trained to handle the specific needs of those with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. This training includes understanding how the disease manifests, knowing why dementia patients may exhibit disruptive behavior, how to respond to it, and how to communicate with individuals with dementia.
“The staff should make every family member part of the team and act as a care partner with residents, working with the resident and their family to achieve optimal functioning and a high quality of life,” Wilson says.
3. Person-Centered Care
Good dementia care involves using information about a resident to develop “person-centered” strategies, which are designed to ensure that services are tailored to each individual’s circumstances.
“Even though a person is affected by their dementia, there is still a human being there — a person looking for and needing love, compassion, connection, joy, intellectual stimulation, physical movement, and spiritual fulfillment,” Wilson says. “Different stages of the disease allow individuals to process, communicate, and participate differently, but every single person can still process their surroundings in some way, communicate in some way, and participate in some way. The key to a great memory care program is staff who take the time to engage residents within their own capabilities to make each moment and each day enjoyable and successful.”
4. Therapeutic Programs and Activities
Engagement in meaningful activities is one of the critical elements of good dementia care. Most memory care communities provide leisure and therapeutic programs that provide residents the opportunity to not only maintain and enhance their sense of dignity and self-esteem but also improve memory impairment issues, wandering frequency, and other common behavioral issues.
“A failure-free approach to memory care emphasizes assets rather than deficits,” says Kimberly Stout, the Arbors at Dracut’s Reflections Memory Program director. “For example, when we play the game Trouble, a resident might move the piece backward instead of forward, and we’re not going to correct it. They’re making an effort and as long as they’re engaged, to us, that’s a success.”
Not only do these activities build residents’ confidence and give them a sense of purpose, but they also curb sundowning behaviors, such as exit-seeking and anxiety.
“Failure-free programming is the key to curbing those types of behaviors,” Stout says. “If you go to a memory care community that doesn’t use the failure-free approach, you’ll probably see more sleeping residents, wandering residents, residents trying to go home. You won’t have an engaged group.”
5. Relaxing Environment
Because of changes to the brain caused by dementia, individuals with dementia may easily become stressed and confused. Memory care communities put a special emphasis on creating a relaxing environment. This may be done by creating a place where residents can gather, painting the halls with colorful paint, and featuring a lot of natural light. Access to personal space and opportunities for free time to relax are also essential.
“Memory care communities should be designed feel like a home, not an institution,” says Talin Ganemian, Reflections Memory Program director at the Arbors at Westfield.
Some assisted living communities have something called a Snoezelen Room, which is a multisensory environment designed to help reduce agitation and anxiety as well as engage and delight the user, stimulate reactions, and encourage communication.
“It’s a nonpharmacological approach to help them relax and feel not agitated, to feel safe and secure, and to feel relaxed,” Wilson says.
It can be challenging to navigate your options and choose the best memory care community for your loved one. Every facility and community is different, and all have different pros and cons. That’s why you should learn as much as you can about memory care before deciding on a facility.
Although this process can be time-consuming, it will pay dividends when it comes to your peace of mind. You’ll feel at peace knowing that you’ve found the perfect memory care community to ensure a high quality of life for your loved one for as long as possible.
For more information about how family caregivers can make sure a memory care community is the right fit for their loved one with dementia, download our eBook What to Look for in a Memory Care Community.