“When is it the right time to move my loved one into a Memory Care community?”
This is the top question we receive from families on a daily basis. And truly the answer is, there is no one “right answer”. As each situation and circumstance is unique, there are many factors to consider when evaluating the need for memory care. Provided below are some helpful tips for families who have a loved one affected by memory loss. If you identify one or more of these factors in your loved one, we recommend consulting a medical professional to obtain their advice and counsel. They will be best equipped to provide guidance on timing and the transition of your loved one to memory care.
Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis
If your loved one has been diagnosed by a physician as having Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, then an eventual transition to memory care is on the horizon. With the disease progression and neurodegenerative process, planning for the transition should be started as early as possible. The physician should provide a timeline and guidance on whether or not your loved one should: move into a memory care community, stay at home with assistive services, or continue living independently for the time being. Based on their recommendations, your family can make an informed decision and/or continue to monitor the situation.
Self-Care and Activities of Daily Living
As cognitive decline continues, many affected struggle with self-care and meeting their own activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dining, bathing, and basic hygiene. If you have noticed these changes in your family member, take time to record and document their specific challenges. After identifying their needs, you may be able to provide solutions to support and enhance their care. Depending on the severity of their challenges, respite stay programs at a local memory care community may be a good fit. The best solutions will keep your family member happy, healthy, and actively engaged in their own care, allowing them to maintain dignity and independence with a focus on safety and wellbeing.
Safety and Security
When timing the transition to a memory care community, safety and security should be among your primary concerns. If a loved one struggles with orientation and recall, it is possible that they could lose track of time, or even get lost in their own neighborhood. There’s even the chance that they could turn on the oven, and then leave the house, forgetting it was turned on. Even if these are not current concerns or risks for your loved one specifically, there is also the inverse to consider. Does your loved one feel safe in their own home? As loved one's age, many feel insecure due to reduced mobility issues, from living alone after the death of their spouse, or from their declining cognitive ability to perceive what is happening around them. If this is the case, a memory care community with companion living may be the best option for them. This will offer a sense of peace and security that they may be seeking.
We all have loved ones who are incredibly diligent or particular about certain things, especially when it comes to finances. That Uncle who always pays by check because “Why would I pay those credit card fees?” Or the Grandmother who drives to the Utility Company to pay in cash because “Why would I waste a stamp?” Based on the unique habits of your loved one, you’ll be able to easily and quickly recognize the changes around how they handle finances. This could involve forgetting to pay a bill or paying a bill twice. Or a well-balanced checkbook becoming quickly unbalanced. In some unfortunate cases, financial abuse and exploitation from others including family members can take place. Monitoring the financial management of a loved one can be a telling sign and help with timing the conversations around memory care. Although it may be uncomfortable at first, start the money talks with your loved one and be aware of their financial situation to help prevent financial elder abuse.
Social Isolation and Coping Mechanisms
Just as many of us are outgoing, gregarious, social butterflies, others are introverted, thoughtful, and quietly confident. Depending on the demeanor of your loved one, you will be best-suited to recognize any changes in their personality. It is common for those who were previously outgoing to start internalizing their emotions and become withdrawn. Where they may have once found energy and joy in being around others, they may now become quieter and isolated. Isolating may come from embarrassment or awkwardness in social situations. Not knowing what to say, what to do, or even losing recognition of old friends or places. To save face and keep up appearances, many develop coping mechanisms, like switching from analog watches to digital. Telling time can be difficult when struggling to discern between the minute and hour hands on a clock.
Change in Health or Physical Appearance
Changes in a loved one’s health can alert us to a mental deficiency or sudden decline – these may be slight or more severe. Fitness may be neglected or forgotten, meals may be doubled or not eaten, and in some cases, prescriptions or necessary medications may be taken inappropriately or against medical advice. These physical changes may take place over a long period of time, or more suddenly. Weight gain or loss can contribute to changes in posture and walking pattern or gait. From this point, assistive devices may be needed to help with reduced mobility. Depending on the severity and the stage of the disease process, memory care may be recommended immediately or in later stages.
Family Caregiver Burnout
Many family members act as live-in or primary caregivers for their loved ones. More often than not, these caregivers are part of what we refer to as the “sandwich generation”. Meaning they have aged parents or loved ones requiring care, along with school-age children of their own. These conflicting priorities often create challenges and emotional strain on relationships within the family. As caregivers continue to give of themselves and sacrifice to provide the best for their loved ones, their own physical and mental health can start to decline. For caregivers in this situation, they should take time for themselves to rest and recharge. In this case, respite care or short-stay options can be a great resource. Respite programs are also a great opportunity for families to experience and ease their transition to a memory care community.
Many families struggle with the transition of their loved one into a memory care community. Parents or family members may even ask loved ones to promise to never make them move from their home into a memory care community. These promises can create a sense of guilt and create a roadblock for loved ones to receive necessary care. In some cases, families ease into senior care by enlisting in-home care providers for a few hours a week to a few hours a day. However, as care needs increase and hours continue to rack up, this can become cost-prohibitive and even potentially dangerous. The loved one may require a greater level of care than the provider is able to offer, and in some cases – to avoid an increase in costs – remain on lower-tier services that do not meet all of their needs.
Resources and Next Steps
Ultimately, listen to your heart and evaluate all of the possibilities. There is no perfect time, but the earlier you act, the easier this will be on your loved one and family. During your evaluation, keep a journal for 1-week and track any/all changes in your loved one daily. After looking back on their successes/challenges, you will not only have valuable information to share with their physician, but you will be informed of their needs and how a memory care community could benefit them specifically.