Alzheimer’s & Dementia
Assisted living v. memory care: What’s the difference?
December 01, 2023
Having a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is an emotional experience – one that is often fraught with stress and anxiety. Despite your best intentions to care for your parent at home, at some point they will require around-the-clock assistance from a memory care community.
This list of questions – along with insights from Abby Figueroa, Atria’s Senior Vice President of Functional Operations – can help you choose a memory care community that is the best fit for you and your parent.
The stage and type of dementia your parent has will determine the type of memory care services needed. Keep in mind that if your parent is in the early stages of dementia, you should consider a community that can provide more advanced care as the disease progresses.
When you visit memory care communities, let them know if your parent:
According to the National Institute on Aging, if your parent needs 24-hour supervised nursing care, a nursing home may be a better choice than a memory care community.
When Figueroa talks to families about choosing a memory care community, she says this may be one of the most important factors to consider.
“The memory care staff becomes a second family to your parent, so you want to really look closely at how the staff interacts with residents,” says Figueroa. “Does the relationship feel relaxed and comfortable? Does the staff know the residents’ names? Personal histories? Likes and dislikes?”
Figueroa emphasizes getting to know the staff and their approach.
“Ask what kind of specialized training they receive,” says Figueroa. “Along with the training, observe how they relate to the residents. Does their approach come from empathy, understanding and kindness? Do they relate to residents at their level of understanding? Are they able to smoothly redirect any negative behavior?”
Questions related to staff interaction:
As dementia training requirements vary by state, ask what kind of training or certification is required, and whether the staff receives ongoing training.
Figueroa advises that when visiting a memory care community, take note of the design and layout. Is it easy for residents to move from their apartments to common areas? Are the colors and textures soothing? Are the spaces warm and inviting? Is there a secure outside area for residents to enjoy a change of scenery and fresh air? Are residents’ apartment doors personalized so they can easily identify them?
How safe is the environment? Are the spaces free of clutter? Do the hallways and bathrooms have handrails? As people living with dementia are prone to wandering, any doors or elevators leading outside the community must be secure.
Check for these top safety features:
Once the memory care community’s staff and environment pass your scrutiny, it’s time to take a closer look at programs for residents. Engaging the minds of people living with dementia not only brings them joy, but it can also stimulate cognitive function and slow the progression of their disease.
Learn what types of memory care activities the community offers. Are the programs passive or do they offer real opportunities for residents to engage? Do they provide a sense of purpose and enjoyment?
Memory care activities may include:
“People with dementia can still grow and have fulfilling experiences,” says Figueroa. “Be sure that the community you choose offers a variety of programs and activities that stimulate the mind and the senses.
“Living in the moment is critical to successfully relating to someone with dementia. So, if that day’s particular program does not appeal to a resident, it’s important that the community can adjust or quickly pivot to a different program or activity they enjoy. It’s understanding the resident at that specific moment, and then customizing that moment to their current mood and needs.”
A soothing environment, professionally trained staff and engaging programs go a long way to fostering residents’ mental well-being – so take these all into account when comparing different memory care communities.
Learn how the community addresses the residents’ physical well-being, as well. Dementia can also affect a person’s appetite and how they relate to food, so learn how the community approaches resident nutrition. Are small bites available throughout the day? How does the staff help with meals? Do they keep track of how much each resident is eating and provide gentle reminders when necessary?
Well-being is also strengthened by personal relationships. Ask if the community provides opportunities for residents to connect with the world. Do they have multigenerational programs or invite grade school children to perform?
Once you’ve narrowed down your search, ask the communities if any of the residents’ family members can contact you to discuss their experience – it always helps to hear what other families have gone through and what their experience is like.
Atria Senior Living is happy to share our expertise and offer any support we can. Reach out to your local Atria Community Director for assistance. If needed, they’ll call on their relationships with trusted senior living organizations to help find the best solution for you and your family.