Deciding which memory care community is best for your loved one may feel daunting. With so much variation in facility design, staffing, and activities, how do you determine what truly indicates you’ve found the right fit?
We asked two dementia care experts what to focus on when choosing a memory care facility to ensure your loved one is safe, cared for, and, perhaps most importantly, happy.
“Dementia care is very complicated,” says Juliet Holt Klinger, a gerontologist and Brookdale’s senior director of dementia care. “You want to look for a history of providing this care and learning over time.”
Talk with a Senior Living Advisor
Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.
One way to determine whether a community has an up-to-date understanding of dementia care is to find out how they handle certain dementia behaviors such as resisting care, anger, and aggression. “Behavioral expressions are a response to dementia symptoms, not a symptom themselves,” says Holt Klinger. “There’s often an unmet need or a need for a better approach by a care partner. With appropriate dementia care, you’ll see a reduction in these responses.” Ask how providers help and prevent distressing dementia responses.
Find caregivers who see your loved one as a person, not a disease. You want someone to help them thrive, not just survive.Jill Lorentz, certified dementia trainer, owner of Summit Resilience Training
It’s important to identify your loved one’s needs, ask questions, and assess the experience of staff in the community to find a good match, says Jill Lorentz, certified dementia trainer and owner of Summit Resilience Training, a dementia education services company in Denver.
“Look at the longevity of staff working there, and if they’re willing to learn about your loved one,” says Lorentz. “Find caregivers who see your loved one as a person, not a disease. You want someone to help them thrive, not just survive.”
One of the simplest ways to learn about staff members’ care and involvement is to find out how well they know those they care for. Look for ways the community utilizes residents’ history to better communicate with and care for individuals.
Questions to assess staff interaction include:
It’s important to learn how communities engage with residents through memory care activities, says Lorentz. Person-centered or personalized activities enhance a resident’s experience, giving them purpose and enjoyment.
“You need to make sure the community has activities that fit your loved one’s specific interests or needs,” adds Lorentz. “Avoid becoming distracted by aesthetics or bells and whistles. Make sure the staff prioritizes getting to know your loved one.”
A packed weekly calendar is one thing, but pay attention to the details. Are the activities passive or are there real opportunities for the residents to engage?
It’s nice to have a memory care community that looks nice. But I think people forget to consider, ‘What’s my mom or dad going to be doing all day?’Juliet Holt Klinger, Brookdale’s senior director of dementia care
In addition to scheduled activities, many memory care communities have open engagement areas residents can use when they feel the need to be productive or replicate tasks from their past day-to-day life. “Look for a community that incorporates real objects, such as a real garden vs. fake plants,” says Holt Klinger. “It’s nice to have a memory care community that looks nice. But I think people forget to consider, ‘what’s my mom or dad going to be doing all day?’”
Engagement areas — sometimes called life skill stations — in memory care may include:
Memory care activities may include:
Safety is a top concern for families seeking dementia care. From motion-sensor technology in apartments to secured windows and doors with keypads, memory care communities generally incorporate a variety of safety technology and features.
Dementia care facilities also feature custom human-centered designs, which reduce wandering and noise while helping residents maintain privacy.
While exploring a community, Lorentz suggests asking yourself:
In addition, be sure to look for features like:
Depending on your loved one’s cognitive health, you’ll need to ensure the community is knowledgeable about dementia treatments and has access to experienced medical professionals. Ask the community how they evaluate and manage changes as a resident’s health declines.
“It’s important to ask about care plans,” says Lorentz. “Find out who is involved — nurses, family members, executive directors, or others — and how often they’re reviewed. Although care plan meetings are required, they can vary state to state.”
Avoid becoming distracted by aesthetics or bells and whistles. Make sure the staff prioritizes getting to know your loved one.Jill Lorentz, certified dementia trainer, owner of Summit Resilience Training
Ideally, care plans should be assessed every two to three months or more depending on your loved one’s health. It’s unacceptable for reviews to be done every six months, says Lorentz.
One of the best ways to learn about a community is to visit unexpectedly. Scheduled in-person or virtual tours are wonderful ways to learn about a community. But so are drop-ins, where you can witness candid day-to-day events in the life of residents.
If you’d like help or guidance searching memory care communities near you, contact our Senior Living Advisors. Our senior living experts can help you assess each community to learn about personalized activities, safety features, and more.
Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.