How Do Memory Care Facilities Differ from Assisted Living?

Published In Alzheimer's/Dementia/Memory Care

Almost 6 million people in the United States are living with dementia. About 97% of dementia patients are over the age of 65. The CDC predicts that 14 million people in the US will be diagnosed with dementia by 2060.

Dementia is the generic term for diseases that impair memory and other cognitive functions to a degree that affects a person’s ability to conduct the usual affairs of daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

Women suffer from Alzheimer’s disease at about twice the rate of men. The difference is largely due to the longer lifespan of women. 

Caring for a Parent with Dementia

Dementia has a negative impact on the ability to live independently. In its early stages, dementia may cause memory lapses and occasional confusion. It commonly takes longer to find a memory as we grow older, simply because people with more memories need more time to sift through them. However, when memory lapses become more frequent or affect the ability to recall the names of children or common objects, it’s time to ask a doctor to evaluate the patient.

A diagnosis of dementia in its early stages gives the patient and her adult children time to prepare for worsening symptoms. A person coping with mild dementia may want to update her will and estate documents. She may also want to work with adult children to plan the funding of assistance with memory care that may be needed in the coming months or years.

Adult children might act as caregivers if their parent wants to move into a child’s home. If adult children live nearby, they might want to rotate shifts of living in the parent’s home. As symptoms progress, it is often necessary to have a caregiver remain within sight of the parent at all times to make sure he doesn’t wander away.

Adult children might also help their parent hire a live-in caregiver. When adult children are providing care, they may want to take advantage of resources that will relieve their stress, including adult daycare centers and respite care.

In many cases, adult children cannot take time off from work to act as around-the-clock caregivers. In those instances, the best option may be a memory care facility.

Memory Care Facilities

Caregivers in memory care facilities focus on therapies that help residents cope with memory loss. Caregivers employ techniques to reduce the agitation of residents who are frustrated or confused because they do not recognize people or their surroundings. Therapies are designed to help residents relax, to trigger pleasant memories, and to spend time engaged in activities that may slow cognitive decline and improve the resident’s quality of life. Social activities, for example, may include memory games or art classes that stimulate memory.

Families sometimes fear that facilities will drug their residents to maintain control of their actions. Memory care facilities focus on therapy rather than medication. Residents take only those medications that their personal physicians prescribe. Memory care facilities typically have registered nurses who are authorized to manage and dispense those medications.

Memory Care vs Assisted-Living Facilities

Memory care facilities are similar to assisted-living facilities in that both care options offer residential care at all hours of the day or night. In addition to providing housekeeping services and meals, assisted-living facilities are staffed by caregivers who help residents with their activities of daily living. Assisted-living facilities typically offer group activities that allow residents to form and maintain social connections.

Memory care facilities provide similar care in a structured environment that is designed to meet the needs of residents with dementia. Like assisted-living facilities, memory care facilities provide housekeeping and meal services while assuring that the daily needs of residents are met. While residents of an assisted-living facility are free to come and go as they please, memory care facilities generally keep doors locked so that residents cannot wander away.  

Some assisted-living facilities include a memory care unit. Residents with mild dementia who need help with their activities of daily living might initially live in an assisted-living unit and transfer to a memory care unit as their dementia progresses. The memory care unit is typically in a separate wing or building where doors can be locked to assure the safety of residents.

Adult children of parents with dementia may want to consult with memory care professionals to determine a parent’s needs. Whether it is best to care for a parent within a home, to move the parent to an assisted-living facility, or to have the parent receive the specialized care provided by a memory care facility will depend on the parent’s cognitive abilities and physical needs. That decision will need to be reevaluated regularly as the parent’s condition changes.

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