Wit and Wisdom Blog for Atria Senior Living

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Questions to Ask Assisted Living Communities about Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Part 1

Posted on October 22, 2014 by Katy Miller

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Part 1: Living Environment

If you’re considering care for your family member who suffers from a memory illness, the items at the top of your checklist are likely related to finding a safe and  healthy living arrangement in which your family member will not just live, but live well. When you’re making a personal visit to an assisted living community, take every opportunity you have to ask questions about Alzheimer’s and memory care.

It may be helpful if you divide your questions between a few main topics: Living Environment, Engaging Activities, Staff Training and Education and Quality Assurance.

In this installment of a three-part series, we’ll help with things you should look for in a living environment that will help your family member live well.

First, take a sweeping look around the community and observe the residents. Does it look like they are engaged in elementary activities, or are they living full, enriched lives in an environment that encourages grown-up engagement? Are they well-groomed and dressed neatly? They should be, most certainly.

Now, take a moment to walk the community. Has the space been purposefully planned to provide residents with a sense that they are going somewhere on their journey, particularly when they exercise, want to walk around or pace to relieve stress? Residents with memory care impairments wander to help relieve stress or boredom, relieve discomfort (or even pain), express anxiety, as a means to search for something from their past, or out of sheer confusion. So, a mindful design of the community’s layout should accommodate this behavior.

Along these same lines, a thoughtful approach to the space should include access to an outdoor space. You want to feel confident that your parent is safe, and also that they are free to move about with exposure to sunlight, plants, birds and other things that make them happy. You should get the sense that your family member will feel free and relaxed, rather than confined and anxious.

To this end, consider whether the staff greets and welcomes you with open smiles. That’s a pretty good indicator of a positive environment.  If there is tension in the air, you can generally see it on staff members’ faces.

Safety, of course, is of utmost concern. It’s easy to see the signs of a safe neighborhood:

  • Do the doors lock behind you when you enter?
  • Are all doors secured to prevent wandering in unsecure spaces?
  • Are there handrails in the hallways to aid in balance?
  • Is there enough space for the number of residents who live there to safely participate in activities and physical exercise?
  • What about power outages or plant emergencies, such as a fire? Is there a defined evacuation plan? How are the residents protected during events such as these?
  • Are windows secured  – specifically, are the windows in each resident’s apartment secure?
  • Are the windows alarmed?

Ask questions about the community’s call system and the staff’s ability to respond quickly to your family member’s calls. Look at the layout of the call stations to see how far away they are from the resident apartments. How many apartments does each call station cover?

Residents with memory impairments generally cannot self-manage calling for help; however, there should be a call or alert button in each resident’s personal bathroom, if for no other reason than so families or staff can call for assistance. There should also be alert buttons in common areas and common area rest rooms.

In almost all LG Neighborhoods, staff carry pagers and radios with them.  Pagers alert staff when something unusual happens (a door opens that generally shouldn't, a courtyard gate, a door leading out to the courtyard or an alert button/pendant).

Another safety feature is systematic and routine checks on residents to be sure they are okay.  At a minimum, these should be conducted every two hours and in some states (Massachusetts, for example), the requirement is for hourly checks.

Certainly, basic cleanliness is worth considering as well. Is the community well appointed? Are all of the rooms and open areas clean? Does it smell clean? What about the dining room? Is it clean and comfortable?

Sadly, it’s often the case that those in a memory care setting don’t enjoy the same amenities and offerings as the rest of the community. A supportive community will always give the residents choices; for instance, memory care residents can choose whether they want meat, fish or vegetables for dinner. They should be given the same opportunity to feel at home as any other resident at an assisted living community.

We pride ourselves on offering our Life Guidance residents the same dining experience as in Assisted Living.  Pay particular attention to the dining experience and the quality of food the community offers.  The menu should be adjusted to accommodate the residents as they continue along their journey; as they progress, for instance, they may benefit from having finger foods.

Of course, the evolution of thought in this field tells us that there is so much more to memory care than the environment around the residents. Stay tuned for Part Two of the series, which will focus on Engaging Activities and their role in the life of a resident with memory impairment.

Category: Dementia & Memory Care


  • Susan Hirst says:

    Thank you for this advice. My great aunt Nora can’t take care of herself, so I’m helping her research assisted living facilities. It is important to me that she receives excellent care, so I really appreciate this list of questions that you provided. I’ll be sure to ask them at every facility we visit.

  • Callie Marie says:

    My parents are getting to the point where they are ready to move into an assisted living community. These question are really helpful, I hadn’t even thought about some of the security concerns. I will make sure the facility we choose is clean and safe.