Getting old affects our physical and mental abilities. Creaky joints, arthritis and forgetfulness are all common signs that we’re not as young as we used to be.
However, if your loved one is showing signs of memory problems then there may be something beyond old age going on.
This is where memory care comes in - providing housing and 24-hour care for those living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
In this article, we’ve taken a look at what memory care is, the benefits, memory care facilities, how it differs from other types of elder care and how much it costs.
Use our directory to find a dementia care home near you.
When someone experiences serious memory problems, it can be a sign of a cognitive disorder like Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.
In this case, it’s often safer for the person to go into a memory care unit to receive specialist care and treatment for their dementia. Plenty of nursing homes and assisted living communities have special memory care units for dementia residents, but there are also stand-alone memory care facilities.
Memory care can also be referred to as assisted living with memory care, dementia care, residential memory care or Alzheimer’s care.
So what exactly is a memory care facility? Memory care communities are part of some residential care homes that cater to the specific needs of seniors with memory loss.
Some of the key services provided by these facilities include:
24-hour care which can focus on the individual needs of residents
Specialised staff who lead activities such as brain games to help seniors remain stimulated
Memory-enhancing therapies that vary from music and art therapy to sensory stimulation and aromatherapy
A secure environment with keypad entrances for family and staff, along with carefully designed layouts
A memory care nurse’s job is to provide skilled nursing care to residents with dementia. These specially trained nurses will supervise and support these residents by creating a stable routine and filling their day with stimulating activities.
Memory care staff will be well-versed in recognising potential triggers for dementia and can work to calm or distract residents if they become distressed.
Along with providing meals, medication and helping with personal care tasks for dementia residents, memory care nurses with a nursing home will also check in with residents on a more frequent basis. Doing this is what allows staff to add better structure and support to the daily lives of someone living with dementia or Alzheimer's.
To ensure that a high level of care is provided, there should be a higher number of memory care staff per resident when compared to other types of care.
Memory care offers several benefits for elderly residents living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. This approach to dementia care helps residents maintain their skills for much longer, while providing fulfilling activities that stimulate cognition.
We’ve gone into four of the main benefits below:
Memory care facilities are well-equipped to prevent wandering - a common behaviour displayed by those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. People who wander may become lost or get hurt.
Other safety features include locked exterior doors, keypads or doorbells at entrances/exits and enclosed gardens or courtyards which allow residents to safely spend time outdoors.
Memory care communities also aim to minimise confusion, with thoughtfully designed homes and clearly identified spaces making disorientation much less likely.
Memory care staff are given thorough and regular training to provide an excellent degree of care for elderly residents with memory loss. A low staff-to-resident ratio allows for more social interaction and a greater focus on every resident’s individual needs.
The staff are also trained to manage dementia symptoms. These can include difficult and aggressive behaviour. Staff aim to do so in a kind and compassionate manner, using specific dementia care techniques.
Person-centred care means a personalised approach is taken to dementia care by understanding someone’s preferences, past experiences, abilities and care needs. This type of memory care allows a relationship to develop between staff, residents and family members, meaning a personalised care plan can be created which will better support your loved one’s unique needs.
Supportive activities and therapies for dementia that aim to increase relaxation and reduce agitation may include:
Pet therapy - Using a resident pet - usually a cat or dog - for companionship
Art therapy - This is believed to slow cognitive decline
Reminiscence therapy - This uses sight, touch, taste, smell and sound to help residents remember people, events and places
Aromatherapy - This uses scents to evoke memories
Music therapy - Listening to soothing music can improve cognition and reduce aggressive behaviour
Occupational therapy - Residents are taught coping strategies to compensate for memory loss and cognitive decline
Care coordination is one of the most important services offered at a residential memory care facility. Community staff work closely with residents to assess and plan activities according to their needs and abilities.
The staff may also work with other health care providers to ensure all residents receive the care they need.
If a family member starts to display several of the following symptoms, then they may be a candidate for memory care services:
Wandering off on their own
Forgetting where they are (becoming disoriented)
Problems with judgement and decision making
Forgetting who family and friends are
Difficulty with performing otherwise familiar tasks
Behavioural problems such as aggression and agitation, along with sudden mood shifts
Depression or anxiety
Experiencing severe confusion or hallucinations
Ultimately, it’s time to seriously think about a loved one’s care needs when memory issues mean that they’re a potential danger to themselves or others. At this point, you should start to look into specialist care services that can help.
Some of the most common symptoms of early stage dementia - which are often present before a formal diagnosis - are:
Confusion regarding daily tasks, dates and times
Struggling to follow a conversation
Sudden mood changes
Memory care facilities have been specially designed to have a dementia-friendly layout and offer residents dementia-focused memory care programmes/activities to help them manage the symptoms of their condition.
A residential memory care facility will include many of the following:
Circular hallways for residents to walk around, without becoming frustrated at dead ends or locked doors
Safe outdoor spaces that can be freely wandered
Smaller communal areas that create a calming atmosphere
Naturally well-lit rooms with pleasant views from the windows
Consistent patterns and colours around the home
Memory-focused activities and therapies
While some of these facilities may sound a bit much, they’re necessary to ensure residents remain safe and receive an amazing level of care. Dementia residents are prone to wandering off, so locked doors and enclosed spaces mean that residents can enjoy the freedom of exploring their surroundings, without ending up in danger.
Trying to find a memory care facility for your loved one can be overwhelming, especially as services and amenities will vary from memory unit to memory unit. So where to begin?
Your loved one’s specific needs will play a huge role in guiding your decision. For example, if your parent is prone to wandering, then safety is a big priority.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to a handful, we’d then recommend you visit each residence a handful of times, including one unannounced visit in the evening when staffing will be thinner.
There’s no substitute for actually visiting a memory care community and experiencing a typical day, as this is what’ll allow you to see the building’s layout, how staff interact with residents and what activities are offered. Virtual tours are usually an option if in-person visits aren’t possible. Don’t forget to ask about safety measures, features and staff training when on these visits (more on this below).
Next, we’ve gone over a few of the most important factors you should consider when choosing residential memory care.
The majority of dementia and Alzheimer’s care facilities are designed to feel like a home. Floor plans are easy to navigate, while exits are marked and rooms are labelled. Some memory care facilities will even include soundproofed walls to help reduce agitation and confusion for residents.
Other things to consider are enclosed outdoor areas with walking paths, circular hallways (so residents don’t become frustrated by dead ends) and the overall cleanliness of the facility.
Be sure to keep an eye out for all these details. Though they might seem minor, a well-thought-out design can make your loved one’s transition into a memory care facility much more seamless.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left numerous long-term care facilities in the UK short-staffed. Find out if this is the case and what impact it could have on the standard of care your loved one will receive.
You’ll also want to know how staff members interact with their residents. It’s worth finding out what kind of dementia-specific training employees are given, how they’d manage a person who becomes aggressive (it should involve plenty of compassion) and what memory care programmes/activities they provide to residents.
Does the facility provide activities that will keep your loved one engaged? What strategies do the staff use to encourage their residents to eat? How are dementia care plans developed and do staff take the time to get to know their residents? How often are care plans updated and are residents’ interests taken into consideration when planning activities?
These are all questions worth asking to get a better understanding of how well a memory care unit can cater to your loved one’s individual needs.
Some memory care units are unable to provide complex medical care. You should find out what health conditions or types of behaviour may require your loved one to be moved to a different facility or a more expensive level of care within the facility.
Memory care is one of the fastest-growing forms of senior care. While memory care facilities broadly offer several of the same services to other care types, there are several big differences.
Memory care and nursing care are similar in that both offer long-term housing, meal services, medication management and assistance with daily activities.
The main difference between memory care homes and nursing homes is that nursing homes haven’t been specifically designed with dementia residents in mind. A nursing home can have confusing layouts, patterned walls or furniture that may be distressing to dementia patients. Many dementia residents initially suit life in a care home, but then move to a special memory care home as their condition develops.
Memory care places a greater emphasis on mental health and welfare, while a nursing home will often focus more on physical care.
Assisted living communities are similar to memory care facilities as they also provide housing, meal services, supervised care and help with daily tasks. Memory care differs from assisted living as it specialises in caring for people with memory loss.
This means that memory-focused care spaces and staff are better equipped to accommodate the unique needs of dementia or Alzheimer’s residents. This usually includes 24-hour care, supervision and monitoring, a secure environment for residents and staff that are well versed in dementia care techniques.
Currently, people living with dementia have to completely fund the cost of their care, unless they have assets of less than £23,250.
In the UK, the cost of dementia is £34.7 billion every year. This works out at an average annual cost of £32,250 per person with dementia. Right now, two-thirds of this cost is being paid by people with dementia and their families.
Costs vary from home to home though. The services within a memory care facility, such as 24-hour care, specialised staff, memory-enhancing activities, a secure environment, meals, housekeeping and assistance with daily chores can all add to the cost
Memory care is aimed at elderly people who have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a different type of memory loss.
Whether your loved one has only just been diagnosed with dementia or is now showing significant signs of memory loss, knowing what to expect as their illness progresses will help you understand and plan.
While some people with early to middle-stage dementia will initially be fine in an assisted living community, many families will opt for memory care, particularly as symptoms worsen. The structured environment provided by memory care helps residents feel more comfortable in coping with their declining cognition.
Those with much more cognitive decline will often need a level of assistance beyond what can be provided at a typical care home or assisted living facility. People with late-stage dementia become unable to care for themselves and need round-the-clock support, with memory care offering a lower staff-to-resident ratio, meaning residents can get the attention they need.
The Reisberg Scale can be used by a doctor to evaluate your loved one’s level of cognition.
Below is an overview of each dementia stage and its symptoms/behaviours, according to this scale:
There is no cognitive impairment. Though changes in the brain might have begun, symptoms aren’t yet present or noticeable
Mild forgetfulness which will probably be associated with the natural ageing process
A mild cognitive impairment which manifests itself through noticeable memory loss (though not severe enough to significantly affect a daily routine). People at this stage may get lost in familiar places, have difficulty concentrating or struggle to find the right words
Social situations become more difficult for people at this stage. People may also have problems with remembering recent events and will struggle with managing finances or learning to use new technology
Number-related difficulties - such as struggling to count or remembering addresses, telephone numbers, the date or year - are now a common occurrence. Those at stage 5 may need assistance with getting dressed or choosing what to wear
A pronounced memory loss. Repeated sentences, forgetting the names of family members and an inability to perform daily tasks like bathing or grooming are all common. People at stage 6 may also become agitated and prone to sudden mood swings
There is now a severe cognitive decline. People at this advanced dementia stage are unable to care for themselves, need assistance with eating/using the toilet and struggle to properly speak or walk without help
As dementia progresses, providing a loved one with the support they require can become increasingly difficult. Memory care aims to support the unique needs of elderly people with memory loss while offering enriching activities and therapies.
It may be time for memory care if:
Trying to manage dementia behaviour like aggression is becoming increasingly difficult
Your loved one’s daily hygiene needs aren’t being met
Sleep problems are becoming unmanageable
Your loved one regularly wanders off
You’re unable to adapt your home to keep your loved one safe
You’re unable to properly manage your loved one’s medications
You’re a caregiver that needs a break and is concerned for your own health
When looking for a memory care unit for yourself or a loved one, we’d recommend visiting a handful of times first, to make sure it’s the right fit.
A loved one living with dementia can be a distressing and difficult time, but rest assured that nursing care homes and memory care units are there to help.
If you require more information on finding the right care home for you or a relative, then get in touch with one of Lottie’s care experts to start your care home journey.
Searching for an elderly care home can be a stressful and time-consuming operation. Thankfully, Lottie removes much of the difficulty from this process by connecting elderly people to the UK’s very best care homes through years of human expertise.
We offer a range of nursing care homes that provide round-the-clock care and an excellent standard of facilities and support.
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