Memory care is a type of specialist senior care designed for individuals with memory disorders, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Many nursing homes and assisted living facilities have built-in special memory care units (SCUs), which provide assistance as they are needed.
What is Memory Care?
A memory care unit provides around-the-clock care for patients with dementia-related disorders. As with a residential facility, nursing staff are on-hand to help with mealtimes and other activities of daily living, but they can also deal with many of the unique and challenging problems that may present themselves on a daily basis.
In a memory care unit, staff will visit patients more than they would in a traditional assisted living facility. The units are also tightly controlled and secured. Doors are locked, elevators are coded, and there are no accessible outdoor spaces. This limits the risk of patients wandering away, which is said to happen to as many as 60% of dementia patients on a regular basis.
Patients may be asked to wear tracking bracelets so that their movements can be monitored, and they will also partake in regular activities designed to maintain cognitive function and to help them engage with the staff and other patients.
The ultimate goal of memory care is to keep the patient safe and secure at all times, while promoting activities that can slow the spread of the disease and/or make them more comfortable as it develops.
What Makes a Good Memory Care Community?
While a memory care unit may sound like a dull and clinical place, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The goal is not to keep patients locked up day and night or to resign them to their rooms at all hours. Instead, staff try to promote a positive and friendly atmosphere, one where patients are regularly monitored and can partake in lots of activities while engaging with staff members and other patients.
A good memory care community will provide all the following:
- A Welcoming Atmosphere: The atmosphere should be homely. Your loved one may spend a long time in the facility, so you want it to be as welcoming as possible
- Secure: Security is very important, as it’s common for dementia patients to wander and hurt themselves. It should be monitored using CCTV and/or tags, and there should also be secure doors and elevators. People will need to come and go, but they need to be able to do so without patients walking out after them
- Individual Care: Everyone’s needs are different and, depending on preferences, personality, and the type/stage of disease, one patient’s requirements may differ considerably from the next. A good memory care community will account for this and provide personalized care as needed
- Activities: A memory care community is not a prison, so it should not be viewed as such. Patients are there to live comfortably and easily, not to be punished. There should be regular activities that patients can partake in, whether these are performed individually or as part of a group
- Homemaking Services: Facilities should be equipped to deal with a patient’s daily needs, including washing their clothes and linens, helping them get dressed, providing them with meals, assisting with medication, and more. If they are unable to do these things by themselves, skilled staff members must be ready to step in
How to Find a Good Memory Care Facility
The onus is on you to find the best memory care facility for your loved one. Do your research, prepare, and don’t rush to a decision. Here are some of the aspects you should focus on:
- Cleanliness: How clean is the facility and how clean are its patients? Does it look like the staff members take great care in creating a clean living environment and ensuring all patient personal hygiene needs are being met?
- Rooms: Are the rooms private or semi-private? The cost can rise sharply with a private upgrade, but the added solitude could be worth the additional cost
- Food: If your loved one has any specific dietary requirements, or you simply want to make sure they are eating with good nutrition in mind, look into the facility’s food options. Is there any choice and, if so, to what extent are the patients allowed to customize their food options?
- Staff: Ask questions about the staff members, including how they are vetted, what kind of qualifications they have, and what happens when a patient has an emergency episode
- Facility Security: Does the facility have any cameras, are there codes and locks on the doors, and can you spot any potential hazards as you walk around?
- Staff Security: If you’re worried about the potential for abuse, ask whether or not the staff are given background checks, if they are allowed to see the patients on their own, and if they take any other precautions
- Cost: How much does the facility cost, what is the fixed charge, and what kind of extras can you expect to pay on top of this? You may also want to look into Medicare, insurance, and veteran benefits
- Communication: It’s important to stay informed about the health of your loved one, so ask the facility how they will transmit this information to you
How Much Does Memory Care Cost?
The highest levels of care provided by an assisted living facility cost between $40,000 and $50,000 a year. Once you add memory care to the mix, though, the cost can jump to over $60,000, equating to roughly $1,000 extra a month.
The level of care required and the state in which the facility resides can make a major impact on the price. One of the best ways to reduce these costs is via long-term care insurance, but this needs to be purchased in advance and will only go so far when paying substantial bills.
Many patients are forced to sell their homes and other assets to pay for care. Family members may also be left to foot the bill but, in most cases, there is no real alternative. It’s usually best for the patient and everyone involved if they get the help in a specialist memory care unit.