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A Guide To Memory Care

Sorting through different needs and options in memory care for yourself or a loved one can be overwhelming.  Here is a guide to help you make sense of it all.

What is it?  Memory care is a specialized area of senior living focused on supporting individuals with

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of age-related dementia. Because these brain/memory disorders are often progressive and degenerative in nature, there comes a time when more dedicated, professional support may be the best answer for you and your loved one.

How does memory care differ from assisted living?  Memory care and assisted living do share a lot in common, but there are distinct differences that separate one from the other. Assisted living offers help with the activities of daily living for seniors who are for the most part still independent. Memory care delivers the same kind of assistance with daily tasks like bathing, dressing and grooming, but adds a layer of support designed to specifically address the needs of those living with significant memory impairments.

Another point of differentiation pertains to security. Dedicated memory care tends to be more self-contained and utilize secure access points to ensure each resident’s safety. In this way, many modern memory care communities are designed to feel like a household — with private residences that surround a common living room, dining room and kitchen spaces. Along with providing a secure environment, memory care staff members engage residents through interactive programming, promoting positive daily experiences and safely redirecting when difficulties arise.

Assisted living may provide some levels of memory care and support on a more à la carte basis.

However, because not every resident is there for the same reason, assisted living also may not offer the same level of security. If your loved one is having difficulty managing elements of their everyday routine but is only in the early stages of memory loss, an assisted living community that offers supplemental memory support services may be an option worth considering.  While this can give you a better idea of what to expect, you’ll want to find out how each of the assisted living providers you’re considering calculate their fees and structure their contracts.

How to know when it may be time for memory care – Focus your attention on these behavior and lifestyle changes. If you begin to notice clear issues, go with your loved one to seek a professional evaluation:

  • Problems with walking, talking, eating, dressing, managing medications
  • Uncharacteristic in appearance and personal hygiene
  • Incontinence
  • Wandering
  • Loss of short-term memory and diminished reasoning and task completion skills
  • Stacks of unopened mail, unpaid bills
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Depression or abuse of alcohol

Practical tips for those stepping into the role of caregiver – In the early stages of dementia-related conditions, home care may be a valuable option. As you begin to serve as a caregiver for a loved one, it’s important to keep these items in mind:

  • Talk with family and friends as soon as you know the diagnosis; continue to communicate regularly and often.
  • Ask for and accept practical help.
  • Try to keep a balanced schedule for yourself and your family member.
  • Learn everything you can about the condition.
  • Simplify the environment for your loved one.
  • Do things slowly for the affected person.
  • Distract if there’s confusion.
  • Acknowledge the disability.
  • Treat the person with dignity.
  • Praise the person for what they can do.
  • Avoid confrontation.
  • Be sure the person has something to do.
  • Keep your sense of humor intact.
  • Acknowledge the person’s feelings.
  • Don’t threaten abandonment.
  • Reassure if the person shows fear.
  • If possible, use physical contact — touching, hugs — to show things are ok.
  • Know that fantasy may be a coping device.
  • Use the person’s name when speaking to them.
  • Avoid memory questions to limit frustration.
  • Approach the person from the front to avoid surprise or fear.
  • Use repetition.
  • Use statements instead of questions.
  • Allow time for understanding and processing information.
  • Make positive statements unless it’s a safety issue.
  • Use specifics like “chair” and “table” instead of “it” or “there.”
  • Break tasks into smaller parts.

What to look for in a memory care community – When memory loss progresses to a place where your loved one’s independence is diminished and the demands of home care are overwhelming, it’s time to explore the specialized memory care options offered in your area. In recent years, advances in programs and treatment have resulted in sophisticated residential programs that help residents live with a daily sense of purpose and contentment. When you’re looking for a new environment for your family member— whether it’s at a full-service senior living community, a free-standing assisted living or skilled care community, or a specialized memory care and Alzheimer’s community — ask yourself these important questions:


  • Is it comfortable and clean?
  • Does it provide for safe wandering indoors and out?
  • Are there colors or other cues to define areas?
  • Is the overall lighting even?
  • Are the bathrooms identifiable and safe?
  • Do the furniture arrangements encourage interaction?
  • Are there personal private places?
  • Are there private places for the family to interact with the resident?
  • Is the location convenient for you and your family?


  • Is it specifically designed for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia?
  • Are there opportunities for nurturing?
  • Are behaviors accommodated without the use of restraints?
  • Is there a full daily schedule for residents?
  • What’s the philosophy of care?


  • Who completes the initial assessment of your family member?
  • How often are subsequent assessments done?
  • What training does the staff receive?
  • Are current residents active?

We hope this guide can serve as an informative starting point and useful companion resource for you and your family. The process of finding the right care isn’t always easy, but fortunately you’re not alone.

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