Your Guide to Understanding Memory Care

Everyone deserves compassion, empathy, and kindness, which is never more true than in people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Providing a friend, family member, or loved one with the humane care they need maintains dignity while allowing them to obtain necessary assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs).

Key takeaways:

Unfortunately, many of us try to avoid contemplating the possibility of having to help a loved one who is ill or elderly.

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However, knowing what memory care is and when to consider it might help ease the burden of such a choice.

Dementia is not normal aging

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 5.8 million Americans suffer from various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's. In addition, according to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer's is the nation's seventh leading death cause, and it is the leading cause of dementia in older people.

Dementia, regardless of the cause, refers to the inability to think, remember, and reason sufficiently to carry out the typical day-to-day activities needed to maintain a healthy life. In addition, emotional and even personality changes may arise. Over time, those suffering from any form of dementia require assistance for basic daily care.

What is memory care?

With the natural aging process, we all have moments where we forget where we put our keys or what we went into the other room to do. However, when memory issues start to negatively affect one’s ability to take care of themselves daily, dementia or Alzheimer’s may be present and of concern. These diseases negatively affect one’s ability to care for themselves properly, eventually making routine hygiene and ADLs no longer feasible. When this happens, a person may require extra care.

In-home care can be provided by in-house aids, nurses, and other facilitators. In contrast, memory care facilities provide help for people so they aren't a burden on others. Memory care facilities may be freestanding or part of a more extensive assisted living, nursing home, or retirement community.

ADLs vs IADLs

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It might be challenging to determine whether someone needs assistance when they seem functional most of the time but aren’t recognizing or admitting that they’re having difficulties. However, suppose someone needs assistance with six key activities, the ADLs. In that case, that person needs help and may be a candidate for in-home care or a memory care unit if they have underlying diseases that negatively affect memory.

A person having trouble with the six ADLs requires daily assistance. The ADLs include those actions one takes daily related to personal care:

  • Dressing oneself
  • Getting in and out of bed/chair
  • Using the bathroom
  • Eating/feeding oneself
  • Bathing/showering
  • Walking

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) are actions one can perform and still live independently. These include:

  • Managing one’s money
  • Shopping for personal needs and groceries
  • Using the telephone
  • Preparing meals safely & nutritiously
  • Performing housework

If someone cannot do one or more of these actions, they have limitations and may need assistance. In-home care is an option for some, but it often isn’t sufficient. For many, a memory care center is essential for their well-being and safety.

Memory care facility nuances

To be able to provide memory care requires unique staffing and a patient soul. Memory care centers strive to provide patients with a secure and closely-controlled setting. Establishing routines with a regularity that residents can count on helps keep them calm and at ease. Specific training to manage mood swings, impatience, confusion, forgetfulness, and other challenges in dementia patients is essential.

Alarmed exit doors, fully-enclosed outdoor areas, elevators, or other locations requiring a key card or code are all features unique to memory care institutions. These features may sound harsh, but they are done to help protect the residents from wandering, unknowingly, into unsafe environments. Those with memory-related ailments often roam unaware, and protecting them from themselves is warranted.

Is it time for a memory care facility?

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Memory care is required when a loved one cannot handle their daily requirements without assistance. It may start with an in-home aid or nurse, but eventually will progress to needing full-time care. Suppose you care for a loved one with memory-related decline. When do you know that in-home care is no longer enough?

  • Home care gets too expensive. When long-term daily care becomes an impossible financial burden, there will come a time when 24-hour care is needed as the disease progresses.
  • You need help caring for a loved one. When you can no longer take on the physical and mental responsibilities of meeting a loved one's needs, it may be time to seek professional help.
  • Safety is a growing concern. When a loved one cannot be trusted anymore to use the stove, oven, or other appliances or because you fear they are becoming a danger to themselves or others.
  • Health risks develop. Your loved one has medical issues that are outgrowing your ability to properly care for them.
  • Lack of social interactions and structure to daily life. Social isolation affects physical health. Insufficient physical activity weakens the body and hastens the deterioration of memory-related problems.

Even if you believe your loved one is secure and doesn't need around-the-clock care, memory care communities provide social engagement, boost attention, and provide stimulation. Thus, a memory care facility may benefit them before they become too sick, providing enrichment, connections, and activities they cannot get while living at home. Furthermore, this engagement may delay the onset of the late stages of the disease, preserving the person's identity and interactions with friends and family longer.

What memory care facilities provide

Memory care facilities typically provide:

  • Assistance with ADLs
  • In-house medical alert systems
  • Daily activities (social and recreational)
  • Housekeeping
  • Laundry/linen services
  • Nutritious meals 3x daily with snacks and drinks throughout the day

These facilities often have apartment-type living with individual bathrooms, though rooms may be shared. Staff may provide brain games and other activities to decrease memory loss. Generally speaking, these facilities will also supply 24-hour security, family support groups, and anti-wandering measures, such as locked doors and tracking devices.

Typically, patients in a memory care facility are physically healthy, except for memory-related decline and the resulting trials and tribulations. If your loved one has underlying health conditions that require skilled nursing care, a memory care facility likely won’t suffice. A nursing home or other related facility may be warranted for those with medical needs beyond memory assistance.

Costs of memory care

The cost of memory care falls somewhere between that of assisted living and skilled nursing home care. Pricing will vary depending on location, the services, and amenities offered, and the standard of living each facility provides. However, providing care isn’t cheap. Therefore, the costs associated with memory assistance will likely factor into your final decision.

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Unfortunately, Medicare does not provide coverage for room or board, only medical expenses — with limitations. If you or a spouse have veterans benefits, you may have coverage or partial coverage. Often those running these facilities can help you navigate the insurance, veterans benefits, and other related means to cover costs associated with memory care. Hopefully, your loved one obtained long-term care insurance when younger, which can help financially.

Dementia’s negative effects on loved ones — including memory loss, inability to care for oneself, isolation, and social decline — are distressing regardless of the disease’s cause. Sadly, their decline is inevitable. However, setting your loved one up with the memory care they need, whether in-home care or at a 24-hour facility, can bring peace of mind. You know that the individual receives love, kindness, assistance with ADLs, and the nutrition they need to thrive. While necessary in time, memory care helps provide security, structure, and respect to those you love.


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