[Checklist] – Questions to Ask When Visiting Memory Care Communities

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Evaluating Memory Care FacilitiesSometimes you have to turn the tables, shift your perspective and look at things from a different angle in order to find the right answer. This is certainly the case when it’s time to search for the right type of memory care for yourself – or a loved one.

Life takes on a rather drastic shift indeed when it’s time to plan for memory care, and the key is to remember that while this move may feel like a sacrifice of autonomy, freedom and “life as you know it,” choosing the right memory care community means reclaiming all of those things in a slightly different way.

Asking the Right Questions Leads to the Right Memory Care Community

Taking a gently assertive role as you interview (yes, interview!) prospective memory care communities via their director(s) and staff, you will know when you find “the one” for you.

You are the one who controls the final decision regarding where – and by whom – loved ones will be cared for as their Alzheimer’s or dementia progresses, and that requires consistent “interviewing skills” as you learn which memory care communities or centers meet the attentive criteria you require of them.

The following questions are in alignment with The Joint Commission’s Memory Care Requirements, and are organized by:

  • Staffing
  • Policies & Fees
  • Amenities

They serve as a comprehensive guideline for the types of information you should have on-hand as you move forward in the decision-making process – and you are encouraged to add your own questions to the mix.

With the director’s/staff permission, it is a good idea to record these “interview/introductory” meetings so you can be present in the moment, knowing you can play the recording back to jot down the answers later on.

Ultimately, after visiting the centers on your list, you’ll be able to compare “apples-to-apples” via their answers – eliminating some and bumping others to the top of the list – as you narrow in on your final choice.

Questions Regarding Memory Care Staffing

Do you have a Medical Director on staff?

Memory Care StaffWho’s at the helm, so to speak, when it comes to steering the physical and emotional well-being of the residents in the right direction?

Having a Medical Director on staff indicates the community is dedicated to serving both the physical, as well as the mental/emotional, health of their residents – and has the leadership in place to do so.

Are there RNs or LPNs on staff? If so, how many? Are they on-site 24/7?

Most high-quality memory care centers have RNs and/or LPNs on staff to oversee any physical and/or medical needs that may arise in the course of a day. Nursing staff report directly to the community’s lead physicians as needed.

Consistent staff assignments (the same caregivers caring for the same patients) builds meaningful connections that foster personalized care. Ideally, trained medical staff are available 24/7.

What is the staffing ratio for each shift?

Those with dementia and dementia-related conditions are not as inherently regulated by the circadian rhythm. Thus, unlike other assisted living communities, memory care centers should maintain a consistent staff:patient ratio, around the clock.

What medical services are available?

The bulk of the residents’ medical needs can be diagnosed/treated with some basic, on-site medical services, including:

  • Labs
  • X-Rays
  • PT/OT/SP Therapy
  • Home Health
  • Hospice
  • Podiatry
  • Pharmacy

Not only does this expedite care, it eliminates confusion associated with resident location changes and non-routine appointments.

What types of training does the staff have? What are staffing ratios for each shift?

All members of of the caregiving staff should maintain ongoing, annual training in alignment with current best-practices for memory care. Participation in professional education/training should be documented.

The higher the ratio of staff:resident, the better a memory care facility typically comes to promoting resident safety and well-being. Optimally, you’re looking for a 1:6 resident/staff ratio or better.

However, according to payingforseniorcare.com, “…time and time again, relevant research has shown that assisted living communities with full-time RNs and direct care with in-house nursing staff have a direct impact on resident outcomes.”

Questions Regarding Memory Care Policies & Fees

For this section, we’ll simply list the set of questions because your interest in the answers may vary depending on your situation, and the questions’ intent is relatively straight-forward:

  • Can my loved one stay here through the end of life or do they have to move if their care becomes too extensive?
  • What types of care can your community NOT provide?
  • What is the policy for a medical emergency/ER visit?
  • Does a staff member go with the resident on ER visits?
  • What is the policy for notifying family members?
  • What is the discharge policy?
  • Is the community all-inclusive or are there additional costs?
  • What are the additional costs i.e., cable TV, phone, medication fees, care level fees, activities/outings, transportation?
  • Can my loved one come back if they have to go to rehab?
  • What happens if my loved one is no longer ambulatory?

Questions Regarding Amenities and Outings

One of the defining features of great memory care communities is they are not out-of-the way places where residents go to deflate or wither on the vine. Rather, they are vibrant communities where those with dementia and related forms of cognitive decline go to receive top-notch care while being able to create a new, colorful and creative version of their life.

Outings for Memory Care Patients This requires beautiful grounds, community gardens, recreational and creative opportunities as well as safely organized outside trips into the community.

Questions worth asking include:

  • What are the daily activities like? How many days per week?
  • Do you charge for outside activities? i.e. Lunch Outings, Museums, etc.
  • Do you have Semi-Private and Private rooms? If cost is of concern, semi-private rooms can save residents thousands of dollars per year.

Ultimately, memory care communities should provide a rich spectrum of daily activities – offered in the morning, afternoon and evening. This ensures your loved one has access to fun, interesting and stimulating activities regardless of when his/her “best hours of the day” may be.

Potential activities should cross the spectrum of the residents’ potential interests, hobbies and preferred modalities, including art, poetry, music (both played and performed), dancing, games, hobby activities, supervised cooking, sports and physical activities as well as social engagements.

All of these types of activities have been proven to slow the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s and enhance the mood of those who suffer from cognitive decline.

But don’t forget the most important question of all…

Which memory care community makes you feel the most safe, comfortable and secure?

Your gut instincts matter. While answers to these questions are important, the feelings and intuition you receive as you tour prospective communities are every bit as valuable as the black-and-white answers you review.

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When to Move from Assisted Living to a Memory Care Facility

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Image of man talking with senior father

When seniors are no longer able to live safely and independently at home, spouses, children and/or caregivers often look towards assisted living communities. However, while these facilities are wonderful at providing escalating care for the general senior population, assisted living communities are not the same as memory care.

While they may have an exclusive memory care wing or unit- memory care is not their exclusive niche. This can unintentionally result in lesser-quality care for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

When is it time to transition from assisted living to memory care?

So, the question becomes, when should one consider transitioning to memory care rather than assisted living?

Someone has a dementia diagnosis

If you, your spouse, or a loved one has a dementia diagnosis that now requires more attentive care, it’s often best to skip assisted living options and move directly into memory care.

Major transitions are never easy and moving is one of the hardest. While it may be tempting to move into assisted living first, planning to transition to memory care later, this is more difficult for everyone in the long-run – particularly the person experiencing dementia.

If you’re worried about being separated from a spouse, know that you can visit anytime and that – in the big picture – keeping stress and strain to a minimum is the best way to minimize dementia symptoms as much as possible.

You suspect your loved one is unsafe

Memory care communities are devoted to their residents’ safety. If your loved one is wandering out of the home, getting lost when out and about, forgets to turn off stove tops or ovens, neglects to take important medicines, no longer adheres to normal routines, isn’t paying bills or you notice a signs of physical or mental/emotional decline, it’s time to explore memory care options.

Their social and emotional world is shrinking

Two elderly residents at an assisted living facility celebrate their birthdaysAs dementia progresses, an individual’s normal social activities or routines can actually be more harmful than helpful to their sense of well-being as the result of the people they no longer recognize, stories they can’t keep up with or activities they can no longer participate in due to their memory loss.

At this point, a memory care community is the best solution because your loved one will be living in an environment that is wholly dedicated to his/her safety and well-being, eliminating the triggers that exacerbate cognitive decline and supporting a healthy, active social network in a way that is secure and satisfying.

What is the difference between assisted living and memory care communities?

Memory care is a very unique and specialized form of skilled nursing, wholly dedicated to providing top-quality care to seniors with dementia and dementia-related conditions. Simultaneously, these communities provide as much independence, freedom, creativity, activity, and sense of community as they can – all within the medical and scientific framework of dementia – as well as the nuances that improve care for dementia patients. This level of care differs from that in an assisted living facility.

Specialized training

Everyone from the memory care community’s administrators to doctors, nurses, aides and housekeeping continuously attend trainings and seminars that include both research-backed education, as well as simulations and practices that help everyone gain a deeper understanding of what it’s like to live with dementia, as well as what it’s like to love someone with dementia.

Nuanced activities

The activities offered to residents at a memory care facility are not only offered in regards to the residents’ interests and talents, they are also structured to promote:

  • Activities that help to slow down the progression of dementia.
  • Programs, classes, and offerings that cheer, calm and stimulate residents without contributing to anxiety or worry.
  • Schedules reflect a healthy circadian rhythm  – taking advantage of daylight so residents are more likely to rest well, mitigating unsettling sundowner syndrome.

Tailored architectural & interior design

tmc town centerThe architecture and interior design in a memory care community are entirely focused on creating a safe, positive and calm environment for the residents. In addition to plenty of common areas and social gathering spaces, you’ll notice these communities do not provide kitchens to their residents – which significantly reduces the chances of burn injuries or fires, which are very common in assisted living facilities when a resident has dementia. Innovative security features help make sure nobody can exit the premises without alerting caregivers.

Thoughtful dining options

Delicious and nutritious meals are offered, three times a day, designed to enable the residents’ ability to choose what they eat – while ensuring all options provide adequate daily calories and nutrition, specific to a resident’s preferences and/or personal dietary restrictions/recommendations.

A tremendous support network

Finally, memory care centers provide an invaluable support network for residents as well as their families, loved ones, and caregivers.

Visit us at The Memory Center or schedule a tour online to learn more about memory care options Virginia Beach, Richmond, and Atlanta.

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