10 Questions to Ask When Considering a Memory Care Community
Let’s say you’ve been taking care of your loved one with dementia and their care needs have exceeded your skills. Perhaps your health is being affected, or it’s just time for a change in their care plan. Maybe you’ve lost your relationship with them because of your role as caregiver and you want that back. It may be time to start looking for a memory care community.
Care for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s can range from assisted living in the earliest stages, when less personalized care is needed, to memory care in mid-to-late stages. Use these questions to guide your search:
1) Who’s running the place?
You’ll most likely tour with the community’s marketing and sales director. Talk with the executive director about how you will engage as a family member, how issues are resolved, how staff are trained and what certifications they have, as well as COVID policies and resident security.
2) How big or small?
Consider the number of resident rooms, the size of the room, whether they are private or companion rooms, the number of dining rooms, and indoor and outdoor activity spaces.
3) What type of medical care is available?
Most memory care communities have at least one registered nurse or licensed nurse practitioner on the floor 24/7. Speak to the nursing staff and the medical director before choosing your community to understand their level of engagement with family members.
4) How do staff interact with residents?
All staff should be trained in dementia care. A common caregiver ratio is one caregiver to five or six residents. Some facilities assign residents to the same caregiver every day. All of this may vary. Ask how caregivers are trained to manage dementia behaviors, especially distress, anger, and aggression. It’s important to understand their approach and decide if you feel comfortable with it.
5) What’s to eat?
Yes, food is a factor. What is the meal setting and cleanliness level? Meet the registered dietician and ask about how they’ll address your loved one’s nutrition needs. Find out if there’s an alternative if your loved one doesn’t like a particular meal. Most communities offer sandwiches or some other palatable option to each hot meal.
6) What types of stimulation are available and how often?
Do they have specific areas to accommodate higher-functioning and lower-functioning individuals? How do they ensure activity participation? How much time do residents spend in their rooms, if any? I favor no TV in the resident rooms because it requires them to leave their room to seek stimulation.
7) Are companion rooms available?
If a private room is not available or if budget is a concern, a companion room is a great option. The executive director will match the information of your loved one with another resident and they’ll observe the compatibility. They want your loved one to be happy. My mom had a private room and it always felt empty. When I switched her to a companion room, both women seemed happier.
Note: Ask if your loved one will be able to stay in the same room as their condition progresses. Changing rooms can be disorienting.
8) Are they regulated?
Regulation varies by state, not by community, and is typically overseen by the state’s Department of Health. Search your state’s Department of Health website for a list of regulated facilities.
9) Is there a waiting list?
Unfortunately, waiting lists are common, especially at the best communities. When they’re at capacity, you have to wait for an opening. To me, this is the key reason to start your search when symptoms are first observed. You can get on waiting lists and then pass if you’re not ready. Find out if there are any consequences to passing.
10) How much does it cost?
Many people sell their homes and use the profits to pay for memory care. Medicaid can help with expenses if the community accepts Medicaid payments and your loved one qualifies. Medicare does not pay living expenses, only medical expenses. A side benefit to selecting the right community is the amount of relief you feel knowing that your loved one is being well cared for and encouraged to engage in a way that’s comfortable for them.
They are being supported by professionals who are experienced in dementia behaviors. Most family members feel some level of guilt for not keeping their loved one at home. Knowing that they’re getting better care than you can provide makes that guilt sting less, allowing you to focus on your relationship with your loved one instead.
Seek Out Local Referrals
Search for a local senior living placement agency in your state (e.g., National Placement and Referral Alliance [NPRA]: npralliance.org). These agencies facilitate care community selection. As locals, they know more about which communities are best for specific needs.
AFA’s Helpline can also provide information about finding senior living facilities— call 866-232-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pam Ostrowski is author of It’s Not That Simple: Helping Families Navigate the Alzheimer’s Journey and Founder of AlzheimersFamilyConsulting.com