Deciding between assisted living or memory care can be very difficult decisions for families to make. The fear of making the wrong choice. Worrying about your parent being upset or mad at you. Wondering how to cope with the guilt you feel for making this decision. You may be overwhelmed just trying to meet their needs where they live now. Balancing other parts of your life are hard to do right now. And then the world asks you to make a really hard decision…do you want to place your loved one in assisted living or memory care?
Let’s clarify a couple things first – I HATE the word “placement”. We are finding the right housing options for these individuals when their home environment is no longer safe or has the services there to meet their needs. As hard of a decision this is, a move from unsafe to safe is a good move. A move from lonely to social environment is a good move. In fact, your loved one may gain some independence by living in a more structured and supportive environment.
What is assisted living and memory care?
Let’s make sure we all understand what these levels of care mean. If you’ve attended my presentations about understanding housing options, both assisted living and memory care fall into CARE SERVICES.
Assisted living often includes some care services – such as help with medications, showering, getting dressed. These are often independent apartments, often without full kitchens. Meals, housekeeping, activities and these basic care services are available. Your loved one is free to come and go like a regular apartment suite. There are private and publicly funded assisted living options.
Memory Care often has all the same services of assisted living other than 3 main differences. Firstly, it is often a secured wing in a building to prevent wandering or loved ones getting lost. Secondly, it has staff available to residents around the clock. When your loved one wakes up at 2am and wanders out of their room, there is a staff member to help redirect them back to bed or sit or walk with them. Thirdly, reminder services for meals, activities and medications is often included in the care provided. Your loved one will often have their own suite, and can mingle around that portion of the building, but they cannot leave that wing without staff or family with them. There are private and publicly funded memory care options.
So how do you choose? Everyday, I walk families through a process to learn what the current abilities of their loved one are, and which environment may set them up the best for long term independence with the best quality of life. Answer these questions about your loved one…
7 Questions To Help You Decide Assisted Living or Memory Care for your Loved One
1. Does your loved one just need support for meals? Can they safely cook on their own, discard food that has gone bad, able to grocery shop or know what to buy at a grocery store?
2. Do you feel your loved one need support with housekeeping? Is the house just getting to be too much for them to manage. Do they just not bother to do laundry and clean anymore? Do they have less physical ability to do these tasks?
3. Is your loved one safely able to drive? Have they lost their drivers license or been in an accident that shows a declining ability to safely react.
4. Does your loved one have a social life? Are they able to meet with friends or make small talk meeting someone new. Do they get anxious is a larger social setting they are not familiar with?
5. Has your loved one gotten lost outside of their home? Do they struggle to walk their normal route? Do they call and indicate they don’t know where they are or that this is not their house?
6. Have you seen a slow or rapid decline in your loved one in the last six months?
7. Does your loved one have a power of attorney or personal directive enacted?
By working through these questions, you are going to get a sense of how your loved one can manage in an assisted living or a memory care environment. You want to choose the environment that provides support for their needs to today, but also as their needs decline.
Why Planning the Right Move is Important
A move for someone with dementia can be traumatic. It is hard for their mind and body to cope with stress. A move is hard on you and I – we are emotionally and physically exhausted and it takes us often days to feel settled. For someone with dementia, a move causes even more stress as they can’t understand what is happening. It can take your loved one 1-3 months to feel ‘settled’. This is why it is so important to make a move to the right environment. We don’t want to move someone to assisted living, only to move them to memory care in a month or 3 months, because they aren’t coping.
* * * Worksheet Alert * * *
I’ve created a flow sheet you can download which is going to give you some assistance in making this decision. It will guide you through questions to help you see if your loved one might be more suitable for considering assisted living or memory care. It is just basic guidance and does not replace medical advice from those who know your loved one best. I hope you can use this to start conversations about what a future move should look like for your loved one.