Memory Care-Is it really time? Series 1

By Laurie Ray, MSW, CMSW, C-ASWCM

Advanced Professional Aging Life Care Specialist

Accepting that it may be time to make this major move for your loved one may be overwhelming. A swarm of thoughts and feelings are buzzing around in your head and heart as you contemplate what lies ahead. The physician has strongly encouraged the need for change, your family is somewhat on board, so where to begin?


This is a five part series that addresses all of the finite details to consider when touring a memory care unit.


In order to move forward with this process try to dispel your perceived images of concrete walls, locked doors, and sad, lonely seniors wandering aimlessly. So often families refer to memory care as the locked down unit which it technically is but a much more respectful description is a secured neighborhood. Families often think that the outcome of this major move is that their loved one will give up and go downhill, but is not unusual for someone to move into this setting and thrive as the socialization, stimulation, and structured routine is so beneficial.  They may no longer feel like they are out of place and feel free to talk and socialize with others because there is no longer as much of a need to hide their “secret” of memory loss. Throw in better nutrition and medication management and physically they may improve as well.


There is a particular family that comes to mind when trying to deal with all of the intricacies and details of memory care.  Jill most likely needed memory care but John did not and they desperately wanted to continue living together. After 60 years what else could one expect?!   I always support families with being creative and thinking of other ways to approach the situation, and to allow the senior to remain as independent as possible. Jill and John’s family were a bit divided on what they thought was best for mom and dad, but with my guidance, recommendations, and encouraging the family to all sit down together to discuss a variety of options they were able to come to an agreement that Jill and John were also willing to consider. This family felt strongly about their parents staying together and John was willing to move into memory care in order to continue living with Jill.  Including Jill and John in the discussion was vital for this family. There will be times when the family needs to tour, consider options, and make decisions without the inclusion of their loved one Often resistance from their loved one comes from a lack of any perception of memory problems, and thinking they can still live independently. With the help of a skilled professional there are creative ways to approach the discussion about a move with kindness, and honesty.


 So a decision has been made. The challenge now is touring communities that can meet their need financially, physically, medically, and socially.  Never mind the emotional toll of this potential move, where do you start and more importantly how can you proactively begin your search feeling empowered with knowledge?



Let’s start with the basics. The physical environment:


  • Is the community convenient for friends and family to visit? This should not be at the top of the list but many families start here.
  • Where is the unit located in the community? Or is the facility all memory care? Location of unit in relation to the rest of the community and is there integration between the different levels of care. For example in a Continuing Care Retirement Community CCRC, can the residents attend and participate in activities available to all members of the community.
  • Security – what type of system in place locked unit vs. Wander-guard? Do family members haveAccess to the code to get into the unit or do they enter and exit only with the assistance of a staff member
  • Have they ever had any incidents of residents “eloping” from the unit – leaving unsupervised
  • Observe how the staff interact with a resident who may be hovering near the door and is exit seeking. Are they kind and understanding? Do they know/use the resident’ name?
  • During a tour is the staff member assisting you asking questions about your loved one, do they at the very least appear interested in your situation or are you just a potential bed-filler.
  • Private or semi-private apartment options
  • Private or shared bathrooms
  • Do they provide furniture or do you bring our own? Will they help with painting the room, installing TV’s etc.?
  • Size of the unit, walkable space, separate neighborhoods
  • Does the unit look physically well cared for?
  • Is it colorful, calming, and odor free?
  • Ability to keep their apartment door closed and/or locked, privacy
  • How often do they check in on your loved one

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