Transitions can be difficult, particularly for seniors with dementia. If your loved one’s dementia is progressing, it may be time to shift from assisted living to memory care. The decision can be a difficult one, since there is no single guideline for deciding when it’s time to make a change. Financial considerations can weigh heavily on your mind, too, since the higher level of care at a memory care community typically comes with a higher price tag.

Choosing a community that helps residents make a seamless transition can make the decision easier. Families considering a senior living community for their loved one should weigh what might happen if the loved one eventually needs memory care. A continuum of care in the same community can offer immense comfort to seniors and those who love them.

The Distinction Between Assisted Living and Memory Care

Assisted living communities cater to seniors with a wide variety of needs and conditions. In a memory care community, the entire community is structured around the unique needs of people with dementia. This means that memory care tends to be much more comprehensive. The senior in your life will spend their days with people highly experienced at managing dementia, and will become friends with other people living with dementia.

Some other factors that make memory care distinct include:

  • An emphasis on safety: Seniors with moderate to advanced dementia may wander or lose their ability to think critically. Memory care communities are designed to keep them safe, while compromising their independence as little as possible.

  • A more proactive approach to activities and socialization: Dementia often means a loss of executive function and social skills. Seniors living in assisted living are typically able to manage their own social lives. Those in memory care communities may need help socializing, deciding how to spend their days, and managing their relationships.

  • A keen awareness of sensory issues: People with dementia can be overwhelmed by unfamiliar sights and sounds. They may also find great comfort in sensory stimulation. Memory care units work to keep seniors busy and engaged without making them feel overwhelmed or threatened.

  • A team that is highly experienced with dementia: Dementia is more than just memory loss. It can make it difficult to make decisions, think clearly, and maintain relationships. It may cause mobility issues and difficulties with grooming. People who understand dementia know how to support elders facing these challenges.

Learn how to find the right dementia care option for your loved one's needs.  Download theComparing Dementia Care & Living Options guide.

Key Questions and Considerations

There may not be a single moment when you realize the senior you love needs more intensive care. You may also worry that making the transition too soon will put your loved one in an environment that is stressful or too restrictive. How can you make the decision? Consider some of the following:

  • If your loved one is already in assisted living, talk to the people who interact with them daily. Ask if your loved one’s behavior has changed. Is he or she still taking advantage of activities? Or is confusion beginning to overwhelm your loved one?

  • Are you performing more caregiving duties than you can manage? If you are stressed, irritable, or overwhelmed, it could be because assisted living no longer offers all of the care your loved one needs.

  • Is my loved one happy? If your loved one shows signs of depression, becomes isolated, or is no longer making friends, he or she may need the additional support of memory care.

  • Does my loved one’s dementia include symptoms other than memory loss? If your loved one has begun having trouble making decisions, behaving appropriately, or interacting with others, a memory care community can help bridge the gap.

Exploring In-Between Options

Some communities offer an in-between option. The Bridges program at some Arbor Company communities, for instance, provides plenty of stimulation in a supportive environment. For seniors who cannot get all of their needs met in assisted living, this can be a good alternative to memory care. Ask the staff at your loved one’s community about options other than memory care. Your family physician may also be able to recommend additional sources of support.

Memory Care: A Way to Enjoy Your Relationship

Ultimately, the question of whether to transition to memory care comes down to one major concern: whether your loved one is happy and leading the life they deserve. If they are lonely or if your relationship is strained, there may be a need for additional care.

The right memory care community won’t cure your loved one’s dementia. It won’t give you back everything that has been lost. But it can help your loved one lead a more normal life. Memory care communities support people with dementia by offering assistance with the skills dementia takes from them. That can make life better for everyone, particularly caregivers. If you’re feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, know that memory care may be the antidote.


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