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If you're the caregiver or loved one of someone showing signs of memory loss, you may be wondering if it's time to consider a memory care facility. It's important to understand memory loss, its symptoms, and what memory care entails, so you can make the right choice for your loved one's needs. In this guide, Dr. Abby Altman, a geropsychologist and senior mental health expert, will walk you through all of the important considerations. We'll also provide you with additional resources so you can make an informed decision.
If you're looking for more information on memory care, its costs, how it compares to other types of care, or insurance coverage, visit the resources above to learn more.
Navigating the ins and outs of dementia can be challenging for seniors and caregivers alike. View the guides above to learn more about the different types of dementia and resources available to you.
Picture this. When visiting your mother, a senior who lives alone, you find out that she forgets to pay some of her bills. She left the oven on overnight, forgetting that she turned it on to cook dinner. Your mom misses appointments, sometimes neglects to take her medications, and has provided personal information to financial scams. You're worried and spend more time checking in on her and her safety than ever before.
These are examples of probable memory and insight impairment, and your mom is showing difficulties managing daily life tasks independently. So what can be done if a loved one is experiencing these challenges? Finding a facility with memory care might be an option. This guide to memory care will cover some important topics to consider, including:
As we age, a few things happen to our brains that are possibly related to decreased blood flow. We know that some parts of our brain shrink, particularly the parts helpful for learning and multistep thinking. Communication between nerve cells (neurons) may not be as effective in certain areas as well. As a result, older adults may frequently complete tasks a bit more slowly or have forgetful moments, like not remembering a name or where they left their car keys. These experiences can be normal aspects of aging, but significant and ongoing struggles with memory may indicate something else.
Here are some experiences that are not part of normal, age-related memory loss:
The above experiences and the term “memory loss” are usually associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer's is the most common and well-known type of disease that impacts memory, currently affecting more than 6.5 million Americans.1 The broader medical or clinical term for “memory loss” is dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving, and other cognitive abilities, severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life and living independently. Personality and behavior changes are also common symptoms. Abnormal brain changes cause diseases and disorders grouped under the general term “dementia,” and Alzheimer's is the most common form, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases.2
Quick Tip: Read our guide to Alzheimer's disease and Alzheimer's care to learn more about this type of memory loss.
Other diseases that fall under the category dementia include the following:
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and most other dementias, but there are care options. If you or your loved one suspects a memory problem, contact a medical professional for an evaluation.
Dementia's impact can be measured by the ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). For any dementia diagnosis, including Alzheimer's, memory struggles and other symptoms need to be profound enough to impair someone's ability to accomplish daily life tasks independently.
Instrumental activities of daily living are tasks that allow an individual to live independently in a community. IADLs include:
IADL deficits can be addressed with family support, additional structure, or oversight from caregiving service providers. For instance, meal delivery could help someone struggling to cook or use appliances safely. House cleaners can come to the home. VNAs or other services can offer regular medication check visits. Ride services can be scheduled for appointment transportation. Family or money managers can assist with finances. As you can see, there are plenty of options! ADL deficits, however, are different since they require more hands-on care.
Activities of daily living (ADLs) are tasks necessary for basic functioning and even survival, often related to health, safety, and independent living at home, including:
At first, individuals with dementia might be able to live at home with help from family, in-home care providers, and community support (e.g., senior centers) and/or adult day care. But as dementia progresses and the patient’s needs grow, loved ones and other unpaid caregivers may become exhausted; we can only be superhuman for so long. Somewhere during this progression to the need for 24-hour care, family and caregivers may consider memory care for their loved one.
Memory care is a type of senior living with more intensive services for people with cognitive impairments. Residents are offered structure and oversight or hands-on care with daily life tasks, depending on need. Many skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities have special memory care divisions or special care units (SCUs), with residents moving to increased supervision as needed. There are also standalone memory care facilities. The typical memory care patient shows symptoms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Other memory care patients may have cognitive challenges resulting from traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, Parkinson's disease, and other causes. Generally, individuals in memory care need help with IADLs and will eventually need help with ADLs.
Memory care centers ensure that residents will not wander away; exits are carefully monitored and are often alarmed. Employees and visiting specialists facilitate daily social events and therapeutic activities to promote community and resident wellbeing. They provide meals, health care, and personal care. A standard rundown of memory care services includes:
Friends, family, or medical professionals may have recommendations for assisted living, skilled nursing facilities, or memory care facilities. Many facilities are open for tours, and some even offer short stays as a trial visit.
Assisted living, skilled nursing, and standalone memory care facilities often have activities focused on non-pharmaceutical interventions beneficial for brain health and dementia.
Some activities may include:
Physical exercise, intellectual stimulation, and social interaction have been supported in research as key for brain health.3 They can also individually and cooperatively play an essential role in dementia evolution and management. Such activities have also been shown to slow disease progression4 and agitation in those with dementia.5 A benefit of a residential or memory care community is easy access to these types of activities.
Quick Tip: Visit our guide to dementia to learn more about the different forms of dementia and types of care available.
Some memory care facilities have Snoezelen Rooms (a combination of the Dutch words “dose” and “sniff”). These rooms, created by Dutch psychologists in the 1970s, are controlled environments that residents might find relaxing, comforting, and safe. They are often designed with soothing colors, relaxing sounds, aromatherapy, and comfortable chairs and blankets.
Here are questions to consider if you’re wondering whether a loved one could benefit from a facility with memory care:
If your answers to these questions have changed in recent years or you're concerned that your loved one may be suffering from memory loss, it might be useful to speak with your loved one's doctor about memory care. Luckily, there are many different options for memory care today, so you can find one that's right for you and your loved one's needs, lifestyle, and budget.
Dr. Abby Altman is a geropsychologist and a consultant for SeniorLiving.org on the subjects of senior mental health and healthy aging. As a daughter of an occupational therapist working in nursing homes, Abby Altman, Ph.D., learned from a young age to appreciate… Learn More About Abby Altman
Since graduating from Harvard with an honors degree in Statistics, Jeff has been creating content in print, online, and on television. Much of his work has been dedicated to informing seniors on how to live better lives. As Editor-in-Chief of the personal… Learn More About Jeff Hoyt
Alzheimer’s Association. (2021). Facts and Figures.
Alzheimer’s Association. (2021). Dementia vs. Alzheimer's Disease: What is the Difference?
Psychology Today. (2019). How Social Interaction May Prevent Dementia.
PLOS Medicine. (2018). Impact of person-centred care training and person-centred activities on quality of life, agitation, and antipsychotic use in people with dementia living in nursing homes: A cluster-randomised controlled trial.