Studies suggest that 40% to 47% of people who have reached the age of 65 report some degree of memory impairment. While memory loss may lead to the fear of dementia, most memory loss does not have a significant impact on day-to-day life. Only 5% to 8% of people over the age of 60 have memory problems associated with dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. A large majority of its victims are over the age of 65. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the fifth leading cause of death in Americans who have reached the age of 65.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys brain cells. It causes cognitive impairments that affect memory, thinking, and behavior. Although dementia affects every person differently, patients in later stages of the disease may have difficulty engaging in the activities of daily living.
About 80% of people who live with dementia receive care in their home. Their caregivers are usually spouses, children, and other family members who work without pay. Most caregivers are women. A third are over the age of 65 and a fourth are in the “sandwich generation,” providing care to their parents and to their own children.
Caregiving is a stressful job, even when caregivers are hired and paid. Unpaid family members who provide care because of love or loyalty report “higher levels of stress, more depression and anxiety symptoms, and lower levels of subjective well-being, self-efficacy, and anxiety” than non-caregivers. Family caregivers who “feel trapped in their role” and those who doubt their ability to cope tend to have more negative health outcomes than those who feel they are making a choice to provide care.
Some families are in a position to hire caregivers who are trained to assist people suffering from dementia. Professional caregivers make it possible for family members to continue working rather than devoting full days to caregiving responsibilities. When working generates income that exceeds the expense of hiring a caregiver, bringing in outside help during working hours may be a smart choice. When it isn’t possible to hire a full-time caregiver, taking advantage of respite care — at home or at an adult day facility — can help family caregivers reduce their stress.
Memory Care Facilities
For some families, a memory care facility relieves the stress of family caregivers. A memory care facility provides housing and support for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The nature of that support depends on the nature of the facility and the resident’s need for nursing care, but trained staff members in every facility monitor residents and are responsible for their safety.
Memory care facilities include:
- Nursing homes. A nursing home may be the only choice for a family member in the later stages of dementia who needs frequent medical attention in addition to monitoring. Nursing homes are staffed by nurses and social workers. They typically provide a doctor who makes at least monthly visits to assess the health of patients.
- Assisted-living facilities. Not all assisted-living facilities accept residents with dementia. The best choices are either facilities that exclusively serve residents with dementia or that have a memory care unit with locked doors to assure that residents do not wander away. As needed, assisted-living facilities help residents bathe, eat, get dressed, and take care of their other activities of daily living. The facilities do not typically provide nursing care, although they might monitor a resident’s medication.
- Group homes. A group home provides secure housing for a relatively small number of residents. Group homes usually provide meals, monitor medications, and always have at least one staff member on duty to make sure residents do not leave the facility without an escort. Group homes do not usually provide nursing or assisted-living care.
- Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC). A CCRC is often a campus that combines independent living options with assisted-living and nursing care facilities. Healthier residents initially occupy an independent living unit and then transition to units that provide greater care as their condition deteriorates.
Memory care facilities are not inexpensive, but they may be good choices for older family members who have invested in long-term care insurance and those who have significant assets, including a substantial retirement income. For those who are in a position to do so, planning ahead can relieve stress on family members who would otherwise provide care at home or contribute to the expense of a memory care facility.