How to Find the Best Memory Care Services
Eleven percent of Americans aged 65 or older have some form of memory loss. Memory loss often progresses at different rates, meaning that individuals may be able to live alone or with minor help for months or even years. But for most adults with memory loss, the time eventually comes when they need more help than family and friends alone can provide.
That’s where memory care comes in. Memory care is a type of senior living dedicated to the well-being of people with memory loss, most often Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Often, major services include housing and dining, support services for daily tasks such as dressing and bathing, health monitoring and enrichment programs.
Memory care communities often provide similar services, but they’re not all the same. Communities often have different levels of experience and programs that promote different lifestyles. To find the best memory care services for your unique situation, you should look carefully at each place you’re considering, including evaluating:
- Overall environment and safety elements
- Staff training and qualifications
- Levels of care available
The best way to evaluate memory care communities is to visit them, ideally at several different times of the day so you can see how shifts work and how support professionals handle daily activities as well as concerns like sundowning. You’re choosing a long-term residence for someone you care about, so it’s important to take plenty of time and evaluate all aspects of a community.
The physical environment is important for people with dementia. Security is a particular concern since many people with dementia are prone to “wander.” All dementia care communities should have secured exits, but the best ones have more subtle controls, such as:
- Pathways that let residents move around the community safely, without leaving the area
- Secure outside spaces that residents can enter and exit at will, without gaining access to public areas outside the community
- “Disguised” secure doors that naturally redirect residents
As necessary as a locked door is, it can make people with dementia feel uncomfortably restricted, which can lead to distress. Look for communities that de-emphasize these measures in favor of more positive re-directs.
One of the most important things to look for in a memory care community is a caring and skilled staff. Everyone who has direct contact with residents should know how to interact with individuals with memory impairments so that each person feels heard, respected and valued.
Skills and Training
Staff in a memory care neighborhood should be specifically trained in the development and management of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Memory care communities typically have ongoing staff training that covers:
- How to communicate with people with dementia
- How to assess residents’ physical, mental, emotional and social needs
- How to personalize care to meet individual needs
- How to use nonverbal cues and other techniques to support resident independence and communication
There is no mandated staff-to-resident ratio, except as regulated at the state level, but experts suggest you look for a community with no more than five residents for every one staff member. Many also recommend that staff members care for the same residents day-to-day. Consistency is extremely important to people with dementia.
Like all adults, residents in memory care settings deserve to be as independent and self-directed as possible. There should be a choice of activities within the memory care community and those choices should be presented appropriately for each person’s needs. Do team members use nonverbal cues, like pictures of activities, to help residents choose what to do next?
Team members should make accommodations for residents’ different needs in a respectful way. Look for eye contact, calm vocal tones and gentle use of physical touch.
Look closely at how staff treats residents who are struggling emotionally. Is the staff member frustrated or relaxed? Do they seem like they’re trying to relax the person or manage the behavior? It’s common for individuals with dementia to have days where they’re more confused or agitated than usual. Staff should be able to handle those days with compassion.
Levels of Care and Support Personalization
Memory challenges develop differently in every person. Not only are there individual differences based on each person’s neurology, but there are different types of dementia as well. A few of the most common types include:
- Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of all dementia diagnoses. Of all dementia-related illnesses, this one tends to progress the slowest.
- Vascular dementia results from inhibited blood flow to the brain. Some vascular dementias are stroke-related and worsen sporadically but quickly, while others progress gradually, like Alzheimer’s.
- Mixed dementias involve multiple types of dementia, such as when an individual with Alzheimer’s also has a stroke that causes vascular dementia. These can be tough dementias for caregivers because they’re dealing with multiple sets of symptoms and the progression of both diseases can be irregular.
Training requirements and programs usually don’t focus on specific dementia types, instead choosing to focus on Alzheimer’s-like dementias as the standard. However, if you know that you or your family member or friend has a non-Alzheimer’s dementia, it’s worth asking if staff has experience with that particular diagnosis. Even if the answer is no, the community should have the ability to work with physicians to personalize your relative’s care plan.
Stepwise Dementia Care
To offer the right care, healthcare professionals classify dementia progression into stages. People with early-stage dementia may not yet need memory care services, though they may begin experiencing difficulty with daily tasks.
Full-time memory care often doesn’t become necessary until Stage 5, also known as mid-stage or moderately severe dementia. People going through this stage need help to complete activities like dressing, bathing and eating. They might lose track of what time or day it is and may become disoriented.
As people progress beyond Stage 5, they need increasing levels of care. Eventually, people with dementia lose the ability to speak coherently and need help to communicate their needs. It’s important to be aware of this fact when you’re looking at memory care communities.
Always ask a memory care community if they can accommodate people in all stages of dementia, including the later phases. If they can’t, ask them what they do when their residents reach that level of need. There should be a plan in place to minimize disruption, especially if it involves moving somewhere else.
Thriving in Memory Care
Finding the best memory care services is all about your family, your situation and the unique needs of the individual who needs support. At Homestead at Hamilton, we believe that memory care services are just one tool that helps people live their best lives. We live by the Valeo Memory Care wellness philosophy of life and legacy, helping each resident to honor and preserve their memories while helping them to pursue their present interests and goals.
At Homestead, each resident is respected for who they are and the life they have built. Call us today to learn more or to schedule a visit to our beautiful New Jersey location.