Are assisted living facilities equipped to handle the special needs of Alzheimer's patients? The answer is: it depends on the assisted living residence. First it is important to understand what assisted living facilities do, what they don't do and how they differ from nursing homes and other senior living.

What is Assisted Living?
Assisted living is a group senior living facility that is not licensed as a nursing home. Assisted Living can respond to elder's unscheduled needs for assistance; however they typically do not provide round-the-clock, on-site medical care. Assisted Living is a good choice for seniors who need help with daily living, but do not require constant medical monitoring and care. In other words, Assisted Living is best for people who need daily assistance but are not ready for a nursing home.

"Assistance" can be defined as help with any "activity of daily living," which includes bathing, grooming, administration of medications, mobility, toileting, laundry, cleaning and meal preparation.

Are there assisted-living facilities for people with Alzheimer's?
Assisted Living facilities can be very different and offer varying degrees of services. One place might only provide limited assistance, while another could offer more comprehensive care. It's important to visit the assisted living facilities you are considering so you know what services are included.

There are some Assisted Living residences that specialize in housing people with Alzheimer's disease. Others, while they don't "specialize" in Alzheimer's care, are equipped to handle the special needs of Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

Browse Our Free Senior Care Guides

Specialized assisted-living facilities for people with Alzheimer's disease are referred to as "Special Care Units" or SCUs. SCUs have staff who are trained to work with people who have Alzheimer's or dementia. The living environment in these facilities is designed to be very safe and comfortable. In addition, activities and social programs are designed for residents with Alzheimer's or dementia.

What about residents with advanced Alzheimer's?
Because Assisted Living is not staffed with full-time medical personnel, they most often will only accept people in earlier stages of Alzheimer's. At some point, as the disease progresses and the symptoms worsen, they will recommend that the resident move to a skilled nursing facility, known as a nursing home.

How to choose Assisted Living Memory Care Housing
The best way to choose an Assisted Living residence is to visit. If you have more than one SCU near you, consider visiting several different places. That way, you can get a feel for each and compare the environment and care offered. This will help you determine the best fit for your parent with Alzheimer's or dementia. During a visit, here are some things to look for:

  • Safety devices and precautions – door and window locks, motion detectors, monitoring systems, adequate lighting and no-slip flooring
  • How wandering is handled
  • Compassionate staff
  • How outbursts and other difficult behaviors are handled
  • A structured routine for residents
  • Activities that reflect the resident's personality and hobbies
  • Activities that are designed for people with Alzheimer's or dementia
  • Activities that help people succeed at familiar tasks, such as making their bed, dressing themselves or cleaning up their home
  • Outdoor activities and safe outdoor recreation areas for walking, gardening, etc.
  • How much time the staff takes to gather information about your loved one in order to provide the best care for that individual, including their safety, well-being and comfort
  • Appearance of residents. Do they look relatively healthy and content?

Questions to ask
Here are some things you might not be able to observe, but be sure to ask about:

  • How many rooms/residents are there?
  • How many Alzheimer's and dementia patients live there?
  • Is the staff specially trained in dementia care and what is their experience in dealing with difficult situations and behaviors
  • How many staff/aides are scheduled on each shift?
  • How many staff/aides work on the weekends and holidays?
  • What is the ratio of caregivers to residents?
  • What levels and types of care does the facility provide for all residents?
  • What levels and types of care does the facility provide especially for Alzheimer's and dementia patients?
  • Is transportation provided for doctors appointments or shopping?
  • What is the policy on wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and other medical equipment?
  • Are residents allowed to bring personal items from home?
  • Are people with incontinence problems accepted?
  • How is aggression and other difficult behavior handled?
  • Can a patient be asked to leave due to aggression, anger, and other bad behavior?
  • What safety measures are in place for Alzheimer's and dementia patients?
  • Will my parent have to move as their Alzheimer's/dementia progresses?
  • Are medications used to "subdue" patients?
  • What is the process for ensuring patients get their prescribed medication on time and in the correct dosage?
  • What happens if there is a medical emergency?

Most Specialized Assisted Living facilities are "private pay" which means the resident or the family is responsible for all costs. Some financial questions to ask:

  • What is the monthly fee?
  • What does that monthly payment include? (number of meals/snacks per day, transportation services, special Alzheimer's/dementia services, etc.)
  • What additional costs are there?
  • Do you accept private insurance or Medicaid?
  • What happens if the family runs out of money?
  • Do you provide hospice care services?

Visit AgingCare's Senior Living Directory to find Assisted Living centers near you.