Memory care is often the term used to find help for someone that has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia and needs assistance to function on a daily basis.
Memory care addresses the needs of a person with dementia and is generally something we are considering for a loved one that is having memory issues or has been diagnosed with a form of dementia, like Alzheimer’s. Since the symptoms of dementia can change and progress, care could be something as simple as reminding someone to take medications or more comprehensive like bathing that person. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia nor is there any direct test to show someone has the disease. Because of this, there are a number of tests medical professionals can use to help them determine if someone suffers from Alzheimer’s such as the SAGE test (Self Administered Geocognitive Evaluation). This helps determine if dementia is present and what the severity level may be.
Overview of Memory Loss
Typically when people start looking at memory care they are concerned about either their own memory or that of a loved one. It’s completely normal as we age for our memory to seem like it’s not as sharp as it once was. In fact, when we age we do lose some ability to recall things.
According to the National Institute on Aging, forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. As people get older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. As a result, some people may notice that it takes longer to learn new things, they don't remember information as well as they did, or they lose things like their glasses. These usually are signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems, like Alzheimer's disease.
Take a look at the table below or check out our blog on forgetfulness as a guide to see if you or your loved one could be experiencing more than normal memory issues.
|Normal Aging||Alzheimer's Disease & Other Dementias|
|Making a bad decision once in a while||Making poor judgments and decisions a lot of the time|
|Missing a monthly payment||Problems taking care of monthly bills|
|Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later||Losing track of the date or time of year|
|Sometimes forgetting which word to use||Trouble having a conversation|
|Losing things from time to time||Misplacing things often and being unable to find them|
Memory Care Options
There are a number of options at home and in other settings that are available to those needing assistance with memory care. Here are a few options to consider for memory care services:
In-home dementia care is specifically focused on those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. While caregivers offer the same assistance in regular home care, dementia caregivers are trained on the types of dementia, how it manifests, behavioral issues, strategies to adequately deal with them, and safety issues related to dementia.
Retirement housing may be appropriate for individuals with early-stage Alzheimer's who are still able to care for themselves independently. A person may be able to live alone safely but has difficulty managing an entire house. Generally, this type of senior housing provides limited supervision and may offer opportunities for social activities, transportation, and other amenities.
Assisted living bridges the gap between living independently and living in a nursing home. It typically offers a combination of housing, meals, supportive services, and health care. Assisted living is not regulated by the federal government and its definitions vary from state to state. Not all assisted living facilities offer services specifically designed for people with dementia, so it is important to ask.
Nursing homes (also called skilled nursing facility, long-term care facility, custodial care) provide round-the-clock care and long-term medical treatment. Most nursing homes have services and staff to address issues such as nutrition, care planning, recreation, spirituality, and medical care. Different nursing homes have different staff-to-resident ratios. Also, the staff at one nursing home may have more experience or training with dementia than the staff at another. Nursing homes are usually licensed by the state and regulated by the federal government.
Alzheimer's special care units (SCUs), also called memory care units, are designed to meet the specific needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. SCUs can take many forms and exist within various types of residential care, including assisted living facilities, and they may or may not be locked or secure units. Such units most often cluster settings in which persons with dementia are grouped on a floor or a unit within a larger residential care facility. Some states have legislation requiring nursing homes and assisted living residences to disclose their fees and list the specialized services their SCU provides, including trained staff, specialized activities and the ability of staff to care for residents with behavioral needs. Because laws vary, it is important to ask specific questions about what type of care is provided in an SCU to ensure that the level of care is appropriate for the person.
Continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) provide different levels of care (independent, assisted living and nursing home) based on individual needs. A resident is able to move throughout the different levels of care within the community if his or her needs change. Payment for these types of facilities can include an initial entry fee with subsequent monthly fees or payment may be based solely on monthly fees.
Group Homes for people with dementia provide good quality care and a domestic environment where people can live as individuals and families can get involved. However, tension can arise when it comes to deciding who takes responsibilities for certain practical and caring tasks.
Care Throughout the Stages of Dementia
Just like everything in life, there is not a one size fits all solution for those in need of memory care. Here are some things to think about as you explore your options:
Early Stage--According to the Alzheimer’s Association 50% or more of the people at Assisted Living facilities or retirement communities suffer to some degree of dementia. Generally, these facilities are prepared to handle early-stage dementia and have resources to help them accommodate some of the less difficult behaviors. At some point, it will likely be necessary to find a facility that can handle the more severe nature of the disease as it progresses.
Early to Mid Stage--Home Care and Group Homes can both be a good place for early to mid-stage dementia. Provided the patient has the financial resources necessary, they may be able to stay at home throughout the progression of the disease. Late stages may require round the clock care at some point. Group Home capabilities will vary by provider and a thorough knowledge of their competency in regard to staffing and experience needs to be addressed upfront.
Mid to Late Stage--Around the clock care is available at many Nursing Homes for late-stage dementia. Memory Care (Special Care Units) facilities will also have around the clock staff and could be a good solution for moderate to late-stage dementia. It’s important to determine how the provider’s capabilities meet the needs of your loved one.
Be sure you completely understand the financial aspect of how each provider works, what kind of payment they take and how they handle periods where the resident may be gone, like hospitalization or travel.
Check out our website for more information and resources on Alzheimer's and dementia.
Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota
National Institute on Aging
Dementia Care Central