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What to Look for in a Memory Care Community

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Few processes are more stressful than deciding upon the best place to move a loved one when it is determined that a move to memory care is the best option.  Keep in mind that when this decision needs to be made, it is often critically important, not only for the well-being of the person with dementia, but in order to maintain the health and safety of the family member who is their current care partner.
If you are in the process of making this potentially agonizing decision, here are some questions to ask yourself, and others, as you tour and consider various possibilities:
What does the environment feel like?

  • Is it cozy? Is the atmosphere comfortable and homelike?   
  • How’s the temperature?  Are there pleasant smells?
  • Are there items of interest on the wall to attract attention and engage the residents?  
  • Is television on, with no one really engaged, or is there some soothing music happening if there is not a scheduled activity going on?
  • Do you see residents out and about, chatting together?
  • Do you see staff interacting warmly with residents? 
  • Do residents seem calm and content, overall? 
  • What sorts of interventions are tried here should a resident become upset?  For example, is  Aromatherapy in use?  (see http://www.haaromatherapy.com/  to learn more)

What can you learn about the staff?

  • Are staff members trained in dementia care on a computer, or do they get plenty of in-person instruction?
  • How much training does the front-line staff get upon hire and yearly on different dementia topics?   
  • Are staff warm and friendly towards visitors?
  • Do staff members seem to take their time around residents, or are they rushing?
  • If you have the opportunity, away from residents, ask a staff member, “What do you like about working with persons with dementia?”
  • Ask how staff members are trained to deal with challenging situations, such as a resident pounding on the door and wanting to leave? (Encouraging answers would include “We are trained to validate the need behind whatever the resident is feeling, to comfort, to reassure, and to redirect them to something that we know is meaningful or pleasurable for them” and “When possible, we take someone who wants to leave this part of the building for a short walk in another part of the building, or (weather permitting) even outside.”
  • What is the ratio of staff to residents?  Is memory care currently full now?  How many memory care residents will there be when it is full? (Does this sound like too big of a crowd for your loved one to manage well around?)  

What is the level of activity and engagement?  

  • Is there an activity staff person specifically assigned to the memory care community? 
  • Are activities ever scheduled after supper?  How about on the weekend?   If you get an activities schedule, look to see if the weekend schedule is as full as the weekday schedule.  
  • Ask to observe an activity.  Note the level of engagement of the participants.  Is the activity being done FOR the residents, or (preferably) is there lots of interaction and participation, because the activity is being done WITH the residents?
  • How often do staff engage residents during the down time they have between cares?
  • How much is music a regular part of the life of the community? 
  • Are there any service projects being done?
  • Do Assisted Living residents and Memory Care residents ever come together and interact?   
  • How would my loved one be made to feel useful in this community?

Does the well-being of residents seem to be a priority?

  • Observe the relationship between front line staff and memory care residents very closely. The quality of life of your loved one will be dependent on the quality of the relationships s/he has with the staff who interact with them the most.
  • Ask how consistent the staffing patterns are. Will your loved one have the same person helping them for a certain number of days in a row?  Consistent staffing patterns are a very good sign, as are caregivers who have worked at the site or in memory care for many years.   

What support is available here for family members?

  • Is there a Care Partner Support Group that meets onsite or nearby?
  • How often are educational presentations given about dementia or related issues? 
  • How often will I be invited to attend a care conference concerning my loved one?    
  • Has this site had experience with different types of dementia (such as Lewy Body, Frontotemporal, and Vascular)?   Even if your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, you want to know if the site has experience and training on working with different types of dementia.   

This is by no mean a complete list of what you will want to ask, but it’s a start.  Two more ideas:

  • Ask the person who is touring you, “What are you most excited about currently in terms of what is going in in your memory care community?”
  • Think about your loved one, their personality, their habits, their interests and accomplishments, and ask specific questions to determine how all of that might be catered to at whatever sites you are considering.

Good luck in your search!
-Marysue Moses, Ebenezer Dimensions Coordinator