If you are caring for an aging loved one, you are now privy to an entire industry’s worth of new jargon and terminology. From short-term stay to outpatient therapy, anxious behaviors to care plans - you can find yourself confused and overwhelmed pretty quickly.

If your loved one has a diagnosis of dementia, you are thrust even further down a road chock full of unknowns and forgotten memories. If you are newly starting on the memory care road, you might find yourself struggling to know if your loved one needs memory care services right now, or even what the term “memory care” means in the first place. In the hope of giving you solid information that you can build your expectations on, take a look at what memory care means and what services are typical.

What is memory care?

When you hear the term memory care, you can assume that it refers to two things that work together to provide the best environment for your loved one. Memory care first refers to a specific block of apartments within a senior care community. This specific neighborhood or unit has extra safety measures that ensure the safety of the residents who reside there. Chances are, there will be secure exits and entrances to the neighborhood that can only be opened with a numerical code. Guests and staff members have the code and are vigilant that memory care residents do not exit the neighborhood when the doors are open.

The memory care neighborhood also typically features a dining room custom made for a successful dining experience. Highlights for a memory care dining room include a quieter area with non-fluorescent lighting, smaller table sizes and a less stimulating environment. Meals are designed and served in order to maximize independence and dignity for the residents as well.

Beyond the physical environment, the term memory care also refers to a specific daily program of living and care that is built with residents in mind. Seniors living with dementia find comfort in routine; for that reason, memory care programs are typically routinized, with certain activities always happening at specific times of day. For example, exercise class might always follow breakfast and sing-alongs might always proceed hand massages. Loud and stimulating activities are usually reserved for the morning and early afternoon, with more gentle sensory stimulation and relaxing activities offered in the late afternoon and early evenings as these are typically the times of day that people with dementia experience anxiety and sometimes agitation. Programs throughout the day are planned and executed with the cognitively-challenged population in mind; staff lives in the moment with residents and failure-free activities are a standard at all times.

Are you caring for someone with dementia? The Caregiver’s Complete Guide to  Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care includes tips to help you accommodate your loved  one’s changing needs.

Who needs memory care?

Memory care - both the environment and the program - is specially designed for seniors living with memory loss or other age-related cognitive impairment. The most typical of these include Alzheimer’s Disease, vascular dementia, or dementia brought about by Parkinson’s disease.

Seniors with memory issues are at an increased risk for wandering, physical risk-taking that can lead to falls, and other unsafe behaviors. A solid memory care program can provide a calm and dignified environment that promotes independence and choice while reducing safety risks and distress.

What makes memory care different than other options?

While it is possible for seniors with dementia to live at home or in other senior living options, it is not ideal and will ultimately fail as time passes. Dementia is a progressive disease that will continue to affect the senior’s memory, mood, and judgment. Most seniors in the early stages of the disease isolate themselves out of embarrassment or acute confusion, which only leads to the disease progressing quicker. However, with the pressures of living alone or masking other behaviors while living in other senior living options gone, seniors living in memory care communities often thrive in their new safe haven.

Memory care communities are each unique, and most programming is based on the interests of the residents that currently reside within the program. However, now that you have the memory care basics understood, you can best select a program that will keep your loved one safe and engaged.

Why isn’t staying home the best option?

Everybody wants to stay close to their loved ones for as long as possible; this is normal and admirable. Unfortunately, a dementia condition will inevitably require a spouse or child to eventually step out of their spouse or child role and into the role of medical caregiver and decision-maker. As dementia progresses, the likelihood of stress and struggle becomes higher and higher.

By seeking professional memory care, families can restore their relationships to the roles they had before dementia entered their life; those of parent and child, siblings, or spouses. Memory care sets family caregivers free from the stress and struggle of soothing anxieties, providing activities, and administering medicines so that they can make the most of the time they still have with their loved one, time that is most likely to be extended by full-time professional care.

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