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9 Signs It’s Time For Memory Care For Dementia Patients

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Update November 18, 2022 – If your senior parent or loved one has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, then at some point, you might make the difficult decision to consider memory care for them.

This treatment entails the patient undergoing therapy and engaging in activities to maintain or boost their memory. How do you know a senior with dementia needs memory care?

Here are some signs it’s time for memory care:

  • Incontinence
  • Unusual behavior
  • Danger to themselves and others
  • Problems with medication management
  • Deterioration in physical health
  • Behavioral changes
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Wandering
  • Difficulties with basic communication

This guide to memory care will tell family caregivers everything they need to know to make an informed decision for the senior parent or loved one in their life.

Memory care can improve a dementia patient’s quality of life, so make sure you keep reading!

When Is It Time For A Memory Care Facility?

As an adult child who may also be acting as a primary caregiver, sometimes you want to overlook things because you’re scared of the truth.

For example, if you admit that your senior parent or loved one needs a higher level of care, such as moving to a memory care unit, that means their Alzheimer’s or dementia is progressing.

Although that is indeed scary, denying the truth means denying your senior loved one the help they truly need.

Keep in mind that memory care is a safe and secure place where the senior will be looked after 24/7 so they aren’t in danger. It also provides residents with a structured environment, allowing them to receive the best possible care.

On top of that, memory care facilities provide activities designed for those with dementia, promoting physical and mental wellbeing, as well as socializing opportunities.

All of these elements combined make memory care an essential step for those whose loved ones have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Making sure their safety comes first is paramount!

If the senior in your life is exhibiting one or more of the following signs, then memory care is the best option for their stage of dementia.

Incontinence

Although no one likes to talk about bodily functions like going to the bathroom, sometimes, you have to. Incontinence is defined as a lack of control in defecating and/or urinating.

Whereas once, your senior parent or loved one knew when to go to the bathroom, these days, it seems like they’ve forgotten. They tend to have accidents a lot more often. 

When they’re aware of what they’ve done, they experience great shame. You may be annoyed with them for not remembering to use the bathroom (you’re human, it happens!).

This can put a real strain on your relationship.

Incontinence can have many causes. Perhaps your senior cannot physically get up to use the bathroom or they find it too difficult to make it to the bathroom in time. 

If they take diuretics, these will increase their rate of urination, which can be hard to control.

Some medications can even relax the muscles in the bladder, so not all accidents are necessarily a senior’s fault. 

Alzheimer’s and dementia can also cause or contribute to incontinence. The senior’s confusion in regards to personal hygiene means using the bathroom can go on the back burner.

Review the rate of accidents your senior parent or loved one has.

If it’s an occasional thing, then memory care might not be needed yet.

If your senior has accidents several times per week though, then now is the right time to consider memory care.

Unusual Behavior

When a loved one begins to exhibit unusual behavior, such as hoarding items or repeating the same action over and over again, it may be a sign that it is time to consider memory care.

Hoarding items can be a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, since people with these conditions often have difficulty discerning what is important and what is not.

Similarly, repeating the same action over and over again can be a sign of anxiety, confusion or disorientation.

Danger To Themselves Or Others

A senior with dementia also needs immediate care once they become a danger to themselves and the others they live with.

Using poor judgment, increased confusion or disorientation in a familiar place, or putting themselves (or others) in dangerous situations are all signs that they now need 24-hour care.

If they have a pet, perhaps they’ve stopped caring for it due to dementia (go here to read about how to take away the pet if it is necessary).

The senior might turn the stove on in the middle of the night and then leave the kitchen. They can put food on the burners and then forget they were cooking.

This puts the physical safety of everyone in the house at risk, including a spouse or partner and any live-in caretakers.

Failing to maintain the house is also a danger.

Piles of garbage and rotting food spread out through their living space is indicative that your senior needs help.

Dangers don’t always have to relate to physical health. If your senior parent or loved one has failed to stay current on their bills due to their dementia, their finances could be in shambles.  

Problems With Medication Management

Medication management is also a huge concern.

It may also be that your senior has stopped taking their medication because of memory issues or that they’re overtaking it because they’re not sure if they already took their dosage for the day.

This can lead to serious health issues if not addressed in a timely manner.

Deterioration In Physical Health

When you see your senior parent or loved one often, you don’t always realize the tiny changes that can occur.

The next time your partner or sibling visits and they remark about the condition of your senior, pay attention.

A senior becoming suddenly frail and skinny usually indicates that they’re not eating three meals a day as they’re supposed to.

They might not have even bought groceries in a long time, so they have no fresh food to prepare.

Behavior Changes

Dementia affects the brain, and thus, the behavior and personality of a senior can change.

In some cases, their preexisting personality traits can become more pronounced, while in others, they’re withdrawn.

If your loved one has extreme personality changes, then it’s an easy decision to move them into memory care.

Besides shifts in personality, track your senior’s behavior for a few days and monitor what, if anything, has changed.

If they’re not cooking for themselves, bathing, or dressing themselves well, then memory care might be the best way to go.

Getting Lost In Familiar Places

Sometimes, getting lost in what should be a familiar setting is the defining moment of awareness (or maybe it’s acceptance?) that a senior may have dementia or Alzheimer’s if they haven’t yet been diagnosed.

It can be a scary enough experience for the person that they agree to testing or the adult child may have to face reality that mom or dad is in cognitive decline.

Either way, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s might not remember how to get back home, and can end up in very dangerous situations, especially if they are out in inclement weather.

Wandering

Wandering away from home without a plan or purpose is one of the most common signs that it may be time to consider memory care for a loved one.

This behavior can be extremely dangerous, as those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may become disoriented and confused in unfamiliar surroundings, like the woman in Georgia who was found by a toddler after being missing for days.

Additionally, they may not even recognize their own home if they do find their way back.

Difficulties With Basic Communication

One of the signs that a person with dementia needs memory care is if they have difficulty forming words or sentences when talking.

If someone has always been articulate but now finds it difficult to communicate their thoughts clearly, this could be an indication of the progression of their condition.

Another sign can be seen in written communication, such as letters or notes or maybe the person is having trouble organizing their thoughts to write a grocery list.

If there’s an obvious decrease inability to write coherently, it could point to the need for more care.

Is Memory Care The Same As A Nursing Home?

Should you decide that memory care is a treatment avenue you want to pursue for your senior with dementia, exactly what are you signing them up for, anyway?

What is memory care and is it the same as living in a nursing home?

Allow us to explain what memory care is.

Memory care is a service for dementia and/or Alzheimer’s patients. You can select a memory care community, often through a senior living community, or older adults can receive at-home care.

Either way, through memory care, a dementia patient gets professional assistance so they can continue leading a quality of life even though they don’t take good care of themselves anymore.

For example, the memory care services would take care of basic tasks, like bathing the senior, ensuring they take their daily medications, preparing meals, helping them get dressed, doing their laundry, etc.

The menus are formulated around those with dementia in that the menu isn’t overly complicated so the senior doesn’t feel bogged down by too many options.

If they’re at a facility, they’d sit in the same area when dining to become familiar with it.

Besides getting extra help with personal care and daily life, memory care also encompasses assignments and activities that use the most of the abilities the senior currently possesses, while helping them rebuild or strengthen current abilities.

Examples might include participation in social activities, music programs, art classes, dancing, and brain games.

Now you can see how memory care and nursing homes are very much different. To recap, here are the key ways the two treatments diverge:

  • Memory care can occur at home, nursing home care does not.
  • If living at a facility, memory care is designed for dementia patients specifically. The walls are usually painted soothing and cheerful hues, the building is easily navigable, and seniors would live in an enclosed community to prevent escaping and getting lost. Nursing homes are not catered towards dementia patients, as nursing homes receive a variety of seniors.
  • Memory care activities are intended to maintain current brain functioning or even improve functioning. Nursing home activities don’t always focus on this as much.

How Do You Tell A Loved One They Are Going To A Memory Care Facility?

This difficult conversation should be approached with empathy and understanding. It is important to remain patient, compassionate, and positive during the discussion.

Start by expressing your love for them and acknowledging that this is a difficult topic to discuss.

Then explain what memory care facilities offer, such as specialized care from professionals trained in dementia-related issues, as well as activities tailored to their needs.

Reassure them that you will stay involved in their life and visit often.

Let them know that they are not alone on this journey and you will be there every step of the way.

Avoid trying to reason with your loved one, though.

With a big move underway, it can be tempting to try to explain your reasoning or feelings about the decision to your loved one. However, it is important to remember that dementia impacts a person’s reasoning and processing skills – if you try to convince your loved one that they have to move because they are unsafe or unable to manage their own affairs, you will only be met with resistance.

Seniors At Home

Finally, make sure to listen to their concerns and answer any questions they may have with respect.

This is a big decision and you want to help your loved one feel respected, secure, and heard throughout the process. With patience, understanding, and compassion it can be done.

How Long Does It Take To Adjust To Memory Care?

Ideally, you and your loved one did some research when they were first diagnosed and have already found some suitable memory care facilities in your neighborhood.

After a couple of interviews you personally conducted, you feel good about your senior parent or loved one living in the memory care community.

Your senior will soon move in. Precisely how long will it be until they feel acclimated?

It’s not going to be an overnight process, that’s for sure.

At the very least, it might take about a month until your senior with dementia feels settled. In some instances, it might be as long as six weeks.

If more than six weeks have transpired and your senior parent or loved one is still struggling to adjust to life in the memory care facility, we recommend speaking to their doctor or therapist to ask for their recommendation.

Keep in mind that moving a dementia patient from a familiar environment can sometimes cause the disease to get worse.

This is something we’ve discussed before, but it’s worth reiterating now.

It’s ideal if you can move your senior parent or loved one while they’re still relatively stable and in the early stages of dementia.

Barring that, then expect the decline to occur. If moving the senior is inevitable, then this is just something you have to accept.

That said, it’s worth it to do your extra due diligence to ensure you’ve selected an ideal place for your senior.

This way, you won’t have to move them again anytime soon, which can prevent their dementia from worsening still.

Read our tips for Moving An Elderly Parent With Dementia Out Of Their Home.

Do Dementia Patients Do Better At Home?

Hmm. Your senior parent or loved one already has advanced dementia, so you don’t want to make it worse by moving them.

Perhaps you’ll opt for in-home memory care services so your senior doesn’t have to contend with moving. Is this a good idea?

It can be, yes. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 70 percent of the 5.2 million United States adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s stay in their homes.

This, the article correlates, makes them happier and healthier and often leads to a longer life.

If you want to keep your senior with dementia at home, here’s what we recommend.

Get Help If You Can’t Do It Alone

Becoming a full-time live-in caretaker for a senior parent or loved one with dementia is a lot to ask of anyone. That’s especially true when you consider the role is generally unpaid.

If you feel like you’re in over your head, then get help.

You might decide from the beginning that you can’t be a full-time caretaker, or you might try for several months and then choose to stop doing it.

You might have another family member who can become the full-time live-in caretaker, or you might have to hire professional services. 

Veterans programs, long-term care insurance, and Medicare or Medicaid may be able to help cover part of or some of the costs.

Make Safety A Priority In The Home

You don’t want your senior slipping in the bathtub, bumping into tables, or turning on the stove in the middle of the night.

By taking measures to increase safety in your home, you can minimize the dangers a senior can get into.

This is not only for their safety, but for yours and anyone else you share the house with.

Create A Sense Of Routine

In a world where everything can be confusing and agitating, a daily routine becomes familiar for a senior with dementia. That familiarity might keep them calmer.

Every day, try to stick to the same routine as closely as you can. That means the same wake up times, mealtimes, bath times, and bedtimes.

Use Apps To Stay On Top Of Mealtimes, Medications, Etc.

Your senior parent or loved one is your main priority but not your only one. You might still be balancing work or even a family. 

To prevent yourself from forgetting which medications your senior needs to take, when they need to eat, and even when their bills are due, smartphone apps are your best friend!

There are several great choices in caregiving apps, as well as apps to help you take better care of yourself.

Spend Time Together

Although having a conversation with a dementia patient can be frustrating at times, treat your senior parent or loved one with kindness, gentleness, and compassion.

Share meals together.

Watch films, especially old ones.

Listen to music.

Take up a hobby or craft that’s doable for your senior.

Sit and talk, as sometimes dementia patients have more to say than we give them credit for.

These precious moments together will strengthen your bond and could improve your loved one’s health as well.

Conclusion

Memory care is a treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients that strives to take care of basic functions the senior might be incapable of doing while also improving or at least maintaining their memory.

Whether you decide to move your senior into a memory care facility or opt for in-home memory care, now that you know this option is on the table, you can get your dementia patient help sooner than later.

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