Memory Care – Is it really time?? Article 3 in the Series

By Laurie Ray, MSW, CMSW, C-ASWCM

This is the 3rd entry in the series of what to consider when touring a memory care unit. The focus is on what some might perceive to be the less important features of life in memory care – activities.  But don’t be fooled! Yes, their new home must meet your loved one’s physical, medical, and cognitive needs, but equally important are quality of life concerns surrounding daily activities.

Maintaining Activities of Interest

Just because they have finally given up driving they may still expect to maintain their previous lifestyle of seeing friends, going to church, and running their own errands. But is that realistic? Their ability to understand their limitations will create a challenge but hopefully their new home will accommodate their interests as much as possible, and will provide them in a way that is more appropriate and fitting for your loved one’s needs.

I often have families say that they do not plan on moving their loved one until they are so impaired that their awareness of where they are will be limited.   Sadly this approach does not give their parent the chance to take advantage of the socialization and stimulation often found in memory care.

Staying Active

Regardless to the degree of memory loss, I encourage keeping their parent or loved one as active as possible.  In addition it is not unusual for someone to move into memory care and begin to improve as the one on one attention, activities, and structured routine is so beneficial.  They may feel less out of place and more comfortable talking and socializing with their neighbors. Keeping the secret of memory loss is no longer necessary. Of course they may begin to feel that they are “better” than the others which may have a positive impact on their self-confidence. This perception may also cause them to think they do not belong, do not need to be there, and so on. Yet, another reason to keep them active socially and physically.

Now what may appear to be a more minor piece of the move-in puzzle:  How do you ensure that the environment will meet their activity and socialization needs? What can you expect or ask for?

I have experienced this memory care dilemma both personally and professionally.  My parents lived in a memory care unit. Taking advantage of the daily activities was vital to ensuring their happiness and ongoing function. There is a “hidden world” behind those locked doors.  This door should not be a barrier to the world outside of the unit. Ideally, with supervision, the residents are able and when appropriate will move between memory care and the rest of the community in order to take advantage of any other activities that will meet their needs and interests.    Staff are often stretched to the max so I would take my parents to many activities, especially musical events. Music was a big part of my parents’ world. My mom may not have been able to tell you the time of day but she could easily sing along with a huge smile on her face. Pure happiness and joy!

Tapping into what activities they used to enjoy such as music, singing, walking, cards, church, and the list is endless. But just because they are more impaired and less able to initiate or participate what brought them happiness in the past needs to be included in their daily plan of c


It is more than just Bingo!!    


Activity considerations:

  • Is there an activity staff person designated for the unit?
  • Review activity calendar, observe an activity
  • Will they create and adapt activities to meet the specific needs of the resident.
  • With staff support are they able to access activities in other areas of the community that may meet their needs
  • How do they adapt activities to meet the needs of  higher functioning residents
  • Some communities may be more open to  addressing specific interests such as sewing or knitting, playing bridge but with a “buddy” who will assist them, walking and exercise classes, use of the pool if available
  • Are the activities staff and caregivers skilled at drawing a more reclusive resident out of their room to participate in an activity
  • If your loved one was typically non-social in their previous adult life are the allowed to remain isolated within their room
  • In addition to what s provided within the community is it possible for them to attend an adult day care center for more stimulation and variety of activities

Again, this is just another piece of the memory care puzzle. This is an overwhelming process.  Don’t forget to also look into the opportunities to attend any type of orientation available to the families, caregiver support groups, and any educational opportunities in your community on Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  There is great comfort in being in a setting to learn more about the disease process, and where you know that you are not alone on this dementia journey.

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