Visiting in Memory Care
Credit: Copyright Merrci

Is a Memory Care Facility the Right Choice for Your Family?

Know your options

Moving your parent into an assisted living or memory care facility is often one of the most difficult decisions to make. But every day I am thankful that we did. If you are one of the many considering it--and feeling guilty over it--I hope this will help you.

It's interesting to note that Memory care is the fastest growing area of residential living. You may be pleased to see how far they've come and how nice the facilities are.

What you think is the right thing, what a good son or daughter 'should' do, may not be the best thing for your parent or spouse. So even if it is a difficult choice, and one they might not be happy with at first, try to consider the quality of life they--and you--will have with each option.

How many of us have arrived at our parent's home to find smoke coming from a pan left on the stove, or the tea kettle burnt because the water boiled out completely? Have you checked their refrigerator to find long expired products or leftover food that smelled funny? Have you had to drive around searching for you parent, when they've wandered off? Or perhaps found them outside, undressed? There will come a point when one with Alzheimer's is unable to manage on their own. When that point is reached will most likely be your decision, not theirs!

At that point you have several options. If finances are available, you can consider hiring live-in assistance. But remember that someone should be there at night too, since they are likely to get up to wander then. That may require more than one aide, possibly 24/7 care.

You may feel they should live with you. This is definitely the most guilt inducing. Twenty years ago, I assumed that if my dad died first, mom would come to live with me and my husband. It seemed natural and easy at the time. We knew nothing of dementia or Alzheimer's. It helped that Dad and Mom had both discussed what they wanted while they were lucid and sharp. Especially when the Alzheimer's diagnosis came in to play. There is no way I could have managed. First, my husband died before either of them. Second, his lengthy illness had humbled me. It was very hard to cope and maintain. And lastly, physically I couldn't have provided her care she now needs. And she is a very easy going, gentle soul that I love to pieces.

Many of you will say facility care is too expensive, that you can't afford it. I'm not aware of the rules of each state, but I urge you to check into what is available in your state. There are often more funds available for those who need the most care. You might be surprised.

I recently read that women provide about 70% of all caregiving whether to a spouse or a parent. That's a pretty big weight to have on your shoulders.

Unless you are able to keep a constant eye on them, the fire on the stove can happen in your kitchen as easily as in theirs. Unless they are secure, they could be walking down the street before you realize they are out of the house. We found a beautiful, safe, protected facility with its trained memory care staff the best choice for us. Please consider these reasons, developed from what we have seen and learned during the past few years.

1. They Get Lonely

And that worsens the more confined they are

Lunch time in Memory careCredit: copyright MerrciI think Mom would feel lost without company. She sometimes gets fretful and tearful when she is alone. In her facility the majority of the rooms are for two people. Each has their own bedroom, but they share a living room and a bathroom. Years ago, pre-diagnosis, I admit I thought it sounded awful to have two strangers end up rooming together. I told myself (and others no doubt) that I would never want that for either of my parents. Now I am convinced that it is the best–and kindest–thing for her.

A roommate was available to move in to the second bedroom of mom’s suite soon after dad’s death. It was such a good thing for both of them. The girls said they would hear them chatting after they went to bed. They would walk to the dining room together, sit watching TV in their room as they drifted into naps. It was comfortable for mom to be in her room again and Mom’s presence made the adjustment easier for her new roommate. While it would feel inappropriate perhaps in Assisted Living, in Memory care it is a definite benefit.

The 36-Hour Day

Recommended reading for anyone dealing with dementia or Alzheimer's

The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss
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This is probably the most popular book on Alzheimer's. If the disease is new in your family, I highly recommend it. The 36-Hour Day discusses the stages, how to slow it, how to find care when it is needed, and so much more. It's referred to as the Bible for Alzheimer's caregivers.

2. They Need 24-hour Care and Protection

That can be more difficult than it sounds

You simply can’t be with your parent 24/7. You still need groceries, have appointments, jobs perhaps, friends. Even if your parent is mobile and able to go along, you need some time too. And at night, would you always hear them if they awoke? Wandering is a fairly common occurrence in people with Alzheimer’s . Mom will occasionally be found walking down the hall from her room during the night. That’s okay when she is in a secure facility where she can’t wander outside, plus the aides will see her and help her. They might sit with her, get her a snack, or simply get her back to bed, but she is safe. This reason alone is sufficient. To know Mom is cared for, watched, loved, and kept safe means the world to me.

3. They Need Structure and Activities

The variety is stimulating

Partying in Memory CareCredit: Copyright MerrcyEach morning the residents arrive at different times for breakfast. Some will sit with coffee for a while first, others eat and return to their rooms. After breakfast they might watch television or walk around. About ten they have exercise time.

My personal favorite is balloon time, when they get eight or ten balloons bouncing back and forth. It is often the most animated you will see some of them during the day. They move and kick and reach and laugh! It’s wonderful to see them playing and interacting with each other, apologizing if they hit another resident, smiling when they are hit. Even residents who don’t normally show much reaction will participate and smile.

After lunch there is a domino game or bowling set up in one alcoves, a jigsaw puzzle in another. A movie is on for those to choose to watch. There are bus rides. Some catch their afternoon naps or read. Some who are able might do a craft. Some wander in and out of different activities, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. There is always something going on they can be involved in.

4. They Need Room to Wander

Space in a safe place

If mom were at home with me, she would be confined to our house. Whatever the size it is unlikely it would offer the long halls with several alcoves, or the secure patio where they can walk or sit or visit. You will often find one joining another resident in their room (if only to nap), or find two holding hands as they go up and down the hall. Yet they have their room as well where they have have their private space.

5. They Still Need a Social Life

Time spent with peers

Dancing in Memory CareCredit: Copyright MerrciFor all the love we each may have for our parents, for all we want to do for them, we are still one person. Living in a residence offers them a chance to be social, among their peers.

And theirs is such a courteous generation. In spite of their occasional moods, I’ve often watched a resident scoot to the middle of the couch and pat the space beside her inviting a third resident to sit on the couch. I’ve watched that same resident stand quietly next to a woman in a wheel chair, politely listening and nodding occasionally as the chair-bound resident talked, unintelligibly, for nearly ten minutes.

Another resident doesn’t speak much at all. She tends to stare. It used to annoy Dad that she would stare at him. I’m not sure she sees well. Still, when dad was near death, I found her standing behind my upset mother holding one of her hands while the other rested on her shoulder, comforting her. How she knew it was what Mom needed still touches me.

6. It May be Dangerous to Live Alone or With You

For them and for you

Not all Alzheimer’s patients are quiet or easy. Sometimes deterioration in the brain causes some to be mean, angry, and combative. I have noticed it more in men than women, but part of that is simply due to their size and strength. Because of that strength they may become more than you can handle physically. They could do you or themselves harm. A facility may alleviate the stress in that person through the controlled environment and plentiful activity. In addition, it offers multiple caregivers and a nurse who can provide medication if needed.

300 Tips to make Caregiving Easier

A help for any caregiver

A Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's Disease: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier
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A book that will be especially helpful if you choose to caregiver in your home. Tips for handling various scenarios are good to have in the home or in a facility.

7. Many Parents Wouldn't Want the Burden on their Children

Another reason for conversations early

They are a very private generation. When our parents were well, they felt strongly that they would not want to live with any of their children. Neither wanted to put that burden on their children, even when we were willing. That made the decisions so much easier for us, another reason I believe it’s good to discuss their aging plans early on.

They would want you to visit regularly. Even if they don’t always seem glad to see you. Even if they don’t always recognize you. Even if it is uncomfortable at first, don’t stop. The more time you spend with them and others the more comfortable you will be. Whether you stop in for a short visit, enjoy a meal with them, go for a walk or a drive with them, it enables them to feel some of their past routine.

8. Being a Primary Caregiver Can Wear You Down

It's strain can cause you harm

Walking together in Memory CareCredit: Copyright MerrciCoping with an Alzheimer’s patient can be extremely stressful. Your own health may suffer and your attitude is likely to. At the point when your parent is less able to get around or go out, you can feel stuck. Sure you can be stoic, but that can make you close off and grow unemotional, even to the parent or spouse with Alzheimer’s.

Don’t think of this as some sign of failure on your part. It’s normal. I bet most caregivers go through the same feelings at some point.

Ask yourself if it isn’t better for your parent to be with a variety of caregivers (medical aids). Isn’t is better to visit cheerfully, to take your parent out for lunch or a drive, and give them a pleasant time, than to grow impatient and possibly short with them? Even the kindest soul can get worn out and frustrated. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them!

In any stage and however you are leaning, I urge you to contact to various facilities and the Department of Human Services about your options. First, you and your family might be pleasantly surprised at how beautiful some facilities are. They can look more like luxury apartments than the image you might have of a nursing home.

It is important to know the rules and conditions for future medicaid, social security or VA benefits. Your local care facility will provide guidelines and local contacts to call for information. Plan ahead as much as you are able. You may find it may be affordable through one program or another. It will help you and your family move ahead with less worry and concern.

Invaluable for Caregivers

Know what to expect

Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical tips and soul-saving wisdom for caregivers
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New but very popular, Surviving Alzheimer's is an excellent resource. Every day is so different when a loved one has Alzheimer's. In this book you get advise from several experts on the big and the little things. Often it's the little things that test the patience.