Memory care has more to offer families than many may know. It’s a sensitive subject- the thought of others caring for your aging parent. On the positive side, often times loved ones blossom in an environment like memory care where they have the right support, but also a variety of activities, others their same age to relate with, and a team of care givers who have been specifically trained to care for those with memory loss.
If the concept of memory care is new to you, it’s not uncommon for families to avoid or place a search on hold because of fears, myths, or misconceptions you may have heard. Here’s a look at five things you might not know about the best memory care communities, and what they can offer your family.
1. The Staff Are Trained Specifically in Memory Care
A high-quality memory care program starts with a well-trained, dedicated team who can help your loved one with the day to day activities they might struggle with. For some, it might be as simple as offering choices for today’s outfit to avoid wearing the same clothes multiple times a week. For others, it might be reminding them that it’s time to take their medications.
Caregivers are trained to assist with activities of daily living as well as to handle the specific needs of those with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. This training includes understanding how various memory loss diseases manifest, knowing why residents might respond a certain way in certain situations, and how to respond to and how to communicate with individuals with memory loss.
“Staff in memory care get extensive, additional, ongoing training on dementia, assisting residents in the different stages, how different approaches work for different residents, and how important engaging residents in different activities throughout the day is,” Carrie Wilson, Director of the Reflections Memory Program at The Ivy at Ellington, says. “Each person with dementia is unique, so all of the learned training gets applied uniquely to each individual, which is where the supervisor, care team, and family members are always communicating, strategizing, and working together for the best life possible for the resident.”
When looking for a memory care program that uses information about a resident to develop these “person-centered” strategies, Wilson offers a few tips: “Look for a caring, energetic, down-to-earth, knowledgeable, communicative, and honest staff. They need to know their job, do their job, care for your loved one as well or better than you would, engage your loved one in meaningful activities, handle the challenging behaviors with a professional, calm demeanor, and communicate with you every step of the way.”
2. Sedatives Aren’t the First Choice
One of the biggest fears family members have is that if they’re loved one moves to a memory care community, they will be overly sedated. However, the best memory care communities use a variety of holistic health care approaches to support residents before they turn to medication. Some of these approaches might include massage or aromatherapy, or in other cases tai chi or yoga. There are a variety of calming techniques that can be used that don’t require medication, or decrease the amount of medication needed.
Some memory living communities even have something called a Snoezelen Room, a multi-sensory environment designed to help reduce agitation and anxiety as well as engage and delight the user, stimulate reactions, and encourage communication.
“It’s a non-pharmacological approach to help them relax and feel not agitated, to feel safe and secure, and to feel relaxed,” Wilson says.
3. Residents Aren’t Isolated in Locked Unit
Another common fear family caregivers have about memory care is that their loved one will be locked in a locked unit and they won’t be able to leave. Although memory care communities have specific features in place to promote safety, the best memory care communities are committed to encouraging and supporting independence as well.
For example, many communities program outings for residents like scenic walks, social hour with assisted living residents, or a bus tour during the fall or holidays.
4. Parents Are More Active and Engaged in a Community
In fact, engagement in meaningful activities is one of the critical elements of a good memory care community. Activities help residents maintain fine motor skills, express themselves creatively (when language might become difficult), and overall enhance quality of life.
“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.”
“The entire environment and memory care program is specifically geared toward keeping those with memory loss as independent as possible while living a social, fun, happy life day in and day out,” says Wilson. “Even if you can manage to provide physical care for a loved one at home, you are still missing out on that social aspect.”
5. Families Wish They Would Have Made the Move Sooner
It’s not uncommon for families to procrastinate when making a decision about memory care for a loved one. However, most families wish they would have made the move sooner.
“The earlier a person enters memory care, the better,” Wilson says. “It is always a challenging move — no matter what stage — but when someone moves in earlier in the disease process, they are usually able to be more involved in the community selection process and can more easily settle into a community — making new friends, trying new activities, making connections with staff. Then, as the disease progresses, they are already in a familiar environment with familiar faces and set routine. They are set up for success!”
Deciding to explore memory care for your loved one can be very difficult, but it’s about making life for your loved one as enjoyable as possible.