When choosing a memory care community, there are a number of factors to consider, including the staff, the community, the programs, and the type of treatment residents receive. What’s most important is that you find a memory care community that provides care that is closely aligned with your loved one’s specific needs.
To determine this, you’ll need to plan on visiting several memory care communities.
“Involving a loved one in the search for a community can be quite challenging,” says Carrie Wilson, director of the Reflections Memory Program at the Ivy at Ellington. “It’s best to talk about or make note of what is important to them — food choices, types of activities, apartment size, outdoor amenities — and what environment they are comfortable in — fancy, country, homey — and seek out matching communities.”
So before you start asking questions of the memory care community, Wilson recommends asking yourself some questions about your loved one’s unique needs and preferences.
Questions to Ask Yourself and Your Family
It’s important to find a memory care community that can provide the level of care your loved one needs now as well as in the future.
“Know your loved one’s needs — showering, toileting, safety checks — and their challenging behaviors — wandering, agitation, doesn’t let anyone touch her hearing aids — and share that with the community,” Wilson says. “The more we know about your loved one’s specific needs, the better we can help you determine if our community and our care staff are the right choice.”
Here are some questions to help you consider your loved one’s unique needs:
- What is the trajectory and progression of your loved one’s dementia?
- Have they begun to wander and are they in danger of becoming lost or hurt?
- What degree of supervision do they need?
- Does your loved one have behavior problems such as being aggressive or disruptive?
- How much assistance does your loved one require with activities of daily living?
- Do they have ongoing medical issues that require regular attention and treatment, such as diabetes, a colostomy bag, or dialysis?
- Are they confined to a wheelchair or bedridden?
- Would your loved one be happiest in a community that groups residents by cognitive level?
- Would they prefer living in a memory care cottage, a neighborhood-style community within a larger community, or a neighborhood board and care home?
- If you’re able to provide additional outside care or companionship, will the community allow it, and, if so, who coordinates the care?
Questions to Ask the Memory Care Community
When it’s your turn to ask questions about the memory care community, “the more honest and specific your questions are, the better,” Wilson says.
Here are some questions the Alzheimer’s Association recommends asking to help make the decision easier:
- Are families encouraged to participate in care planning?
- How are families informed of changes in the resident’s condition and care needs?
- How often are physicians and nurse practitioners on premises? Is there a registered nurse on-site at all time?
- Is staff trained in dementia care? How long is the training, and what topics are covered?
- On average, how long have workers been on staff?
- How does staff handle challenging behaviors?
- What is the ratio of residents to staff?
- Do planned activities take place? Are activities designed to meet specific needs, interests, and abilities?
- Which therapies (e.g., physical, occupational, speech, recreational) are offered?
- Are religious services and celebrations available to residents?
- Is personal care done with respect and dignity?
- Is there flexibility in personal care times based on an individual’s schedule?
- Are indoor and outdoor areas safe and secure?
- Are residents allowed to bring familiar items?
- Is there flexibility in meal times based on the individual’s personal schedule?
- Are family and friends able to join at mealtime?
- Does staff provide appropriate assistance based on person’s abilities?
- Is continuing care available within the community as a resident’s needs change?
- Is there an aging in place policy where residents can remain in the community throughout the course of the disease?
- Does the facility provide end-of-life care?
Use these questions to help evaluate each memory care community you consider or tour.
After the Tour
If you were happy with the scheduled tour, make one or two unannounced visits, too, to confirm the atmosphere is as positive as it was during your scheduled visit.
Talin Ganemian, Reflections Memory Program director at the Arbors at Westfield, recommends popping in unannounced at a different time of day than your original tour. “See if the residents are engaged in activities,” she says. “Is there a TV on? Are the residents just sitting doing nothing? Is meaningful programming taking place? How are sundowning residents being cared for? Feel the vibes of the place. Memory care communities should be comforting and serene, and the staff should be friendly and happy. Energy is everything.”
If staff members are unable to answer your questions or you do not feel that the facility exhibits the level of quality, care, or comfort that your loved one deserves, go with your gut instinct.
“Dementia does not take away from a person’s intellect,” Ganemian says. “They are still able to enjoy, love, care, and grow. They may get to a point when they’re no longer able to verbalize the right words, but we are able to read their body language to determine their joy or the sadness. Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, love, and kindness.”
Deciding which memory care community is the best option for your loved one can be very difficult, but this process is all about making life for your loved one as enjoyable as possible. When you start to feel like you need outside assistance, memory care communities are wonderful environments where seniors can lead meaningful and enjoyable lives — and you can experience peace of mind.
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.