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Best-in-Class Memory Care Practices: How to Run a Memory Care Unit

By Nirali DesaiApril 1, 2022
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Memory care communities are designed to help people with dementia lead safe, engaging lives. With thousands of memory care communities across the U.S., it may seem difficult to find those that truly stand out with best-in-class care. But, with a little research, it becomes easier to see what makes for a top memory care facility.

Many high-quality care practices need to come together for a memory care facility to be considered best-in-class. Whether you want to learn how to start a memory care facility, or you’re simply looking to learn top memory care practices, it’s important to understand that the finest memory care starts with a simple dedication to person-centered care — how management, staff, security, and more connect to the individual resident.

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Senior living facilities, like assisted living facilities, typically offer support to seniors with dementia in specialized memory care units. Memory care staff in these specialized units or communities help residents lead their desired lifestyle by offering what memory care specialists refer to as secured independence.

Memory care facilities offer the same services as assisted living facilities, but within a specialized environment suited to the needs and safety concerns of a person with dementia.

Running a memory care unit begins with well-trained staff

A well-trained staff is critical to a best-in-class memory care community. From the director to caregivers to cooks, every role plays a part in offering top-of-the-line care to residents. Memory care staff regulations differ by state, however, the qualities and qualifications listed below help create a top memory care experience for residents.

A highly qualified memory care directorhelps to ensure a smooth day-to-day operation. A memory care director with prior experience working in assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing facilities is preferred. They should also display clinical expertise in the geriatric field and be certified in dementia care. These combined skills prepare them to come up with creative solutions, communicate with residents’ families, and train their staff.

A memory care caregiver must be skilled and compassionate. This is critical to the quality of life of each memory care resident. Each and every caregiver should have patience, a history of caregiving, comprehensive memory care training, and a certified nursing assistant (CNA) license. A memory care staff member should have a great deal of patience and undergo extensive training to assure the proper care, treatment, and safety of residents.

An ongoing memory care training practice is crucial to secure the safety and well-being of memory care patients. Each employee in the memory care community should complete any basic state-required memory care training as well as continued advanced training to remain up-to-date on best care practices. In states where there are no state-mandated memory care certification requirements, the memory care community should ensure that their staff participates in memory care training and education classes before interacting with residents.

Patient care and needs management should be individualized

Top practices for patient care and needs management in the memory care industry include individualized and empathic person-centered care. According to Clinical Interventions in AgingDementia Care Mapping (DCM) is a professional observation method that puts person-centered care into practice. It enables caregivers to best meet the individual person’s needs and involves the following methods:

  • Learning a patient’s history, preferences, and interests to tailor care interventions
  • Skillfully observing how the immediate environment affects the patient’s behavior to see how environment modification can adjust behavior
  • Detailed note-taking and clear communication across the individual’s entire care team. This allows caregivers to work  and problem solve together, especially across shifts, to ensure consistency in care interventions.

Professional and ongoing dementia care mapping methods should be incorporated into patient care plans to help caregivers manage common dementia behaviors. By working on the individual level for extended periods of time with patients, caregivers can set and track realistic goals for residents to reach.

The positive outcomes of empathy are proven

Person-centered methods are increasingly advocated for in clinical environments because they’re shown to help slow cognitive decline and promote overall well-being in memory care patients. These methods begin with the caregiver understanding that the memory care patient’s personality is not lost, just concealed, and it is up to the caregiver to find it and support it, according to a research review in the journal Lancet Neurology.

Nursing plans are key to running a successful memory care facility

Upon a resident’s move to a memory care facility, it’s crucial for staff to have clear guidance when it comes to the patient’s memory care nursing care plan. Top memory care facilities will have on-site nurses and caregivers who collaborate with residents’ families and health care teams to create individualized nursing care plans right from the start.

Nurses and caregivers in memory care facilities should account for the following and more when crafting a comprehensive nursing care plan:

  • Medical history
  • Diagnosis and medications
  • Comorbidities and contraindications
  • Symptom tracking
  • Medication side-effects
  • Dietary needs
  • Individualized behavior-modification techniques

Best-in-class memory care activities are tailored

Dementia alters all five senses, requiring a unique approach to engagement for memory care residents’ specific needs. Activities in memory care facilities must stimulate residents’ minds, help them reminisce, and support their cognitive functions. In order to engage each person, it’s important to have a wide range of choices that inspire individual community members.

Throughout the community’s weekly calendar, there should be activities that help to both calm and stimulate residents. Therapeutic activities such as music therapy classes and sensory therapy help ease the mind, while events such as holiday celebrations and group games can stimulate the brain and encourage socialization.

Activities should also help residents feel a sense of accomplishment. For example, some communities offer life skill stations — work areas that foster productivity and highlight knowledge and ability. At their most basic level, these stations are designed to help dementia patients feel more in control. Life skill station simulations can be tailored for several occupation settings, like an office, a garden, workshop, nursery, etc. And, new technologies are being developed all the time to enhance these stations and create other avenues for productivity, reminiscence, bonding, and more.

Dementia-friendly design and environment

Dementia patients are prone to confusion, which often leads to wandering. To help support healthy and safe wandering, it is important for memory care communities to use human-centered design techniques. For example, simple wayfinding techniques like signs, colors, carpet design, and things like closed-loop paths can help residents in a facility find their way without ever getting lost.

Wayfinding is just one way that human-centered design supports the safety and well-being of residents. And, the practices of human-centered design and wayfinding have grown so much that there are entire development firms that specialize in human-centered design for senior living communities. These design techniques are driven by the need to promote ultimate comfort for seniors.

It’s also crucial to help memory care residents feel at home, and a community should always offer opportunities for personalization of décor. To ease the transition to memory care, community staff should coordinate with residents’ families to ensure space is made for beloved household items, like a favorite chair, picture, or bookshelf. Memory boxes can also be displayed outside of residents’ rooms to help them always find their room while encouraging reminiscing at the same time.

Resident safety is always ensured

Top-notch security is necessary for a memory care facility. Dementia patients can easily put themselves in danger, so providing a safe and secure environment through surveillance and an easy-to-navigate environment is a must. Surveillance features also ensure that the staff follows best protocols.

Security features in a memory care community should include the following basic precautions:

  • 24-hour video surveillance
  • Keypad entrances
  • Emergency buttons and pull cords
  • Window locks
  • Automated fire prevention systems
  • Elevators
  • Lifts, handrails, and adjustable beds
  • Special lighting features

How to find a best-in-class memory care facility

Researching trends in memory care, understanding memory care programming, and regularly evaluating staff are key to ensuring your loved one always has quality care available to them.

Overall, the most important element of best-in-class memory care is how community staff maintain a person-centered philosophy. The individualized approach to memory care assures that each resident is treated with respect, patience, and dignity — so they can prosper in a safe, engaging environment.

Now that you’ve learned what goes into running a memory care facility, make sure to keep an eye out for best practices. When touring memory care communities, inquire about hiring practices, training requirements, nursing plans, and more to ensure best-in-class memory care for your loved one.

If you would like help finding a best-in-class memory care facility in your area, reach out to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom for free local advice.


Edvardsson, D., Winblad, B., & Sandman, P. O. (2008, April). Person-centred care of people with severe Alzheimer’s disease: Current status and ways forwardThe Lancet: Neurology.

Surr, C. A., Griffiths, A. W., & Kelley, R. (2018, January 26). Implementing dementia care mapping as a practice development tool in dementia care services: A systematic reviewClinical Interventions in Aging.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal, or financial advice or to create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney, or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

Nirali Desai

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