When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, their family may try to continue caring for them at home for as long as possible. However, caregiving can become increasingly challenging since many types of dementia are chronic and progressive. It’s no surprise that one of the most frequent questions posted in online support groups is, “When is it time for a memory care facility?”
When does someone need memory care?
It can be difficult to determine when memory care is appropriate, as situations vary from person to person. Have an open discussion with all family members, including spouses or partners, and the patient’s medical care team. Understanding how your loved one’s condition is progressing and how much support may be provided at home can help ensure that the person with dementia receives the care they need to stay as healthy and comfortable as possible.
Signs it’s time for memory care
The following signs may indicate when dementia patients should go into care:
- Difficulty performing ADLs. Dementia leads to a progressive decline in abilities, so your loved one may have increased challenges with their independence and activities of daily living (ADLs). If you have a difficult time lifting or maneuvering a loved one for bathroom visits, it can be dangerous for you and your loved one’s health and safety to continue caregiving at home. Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia may also result in chronic incontinence, which can be tough to handle at home. In order to prevent infections, incontinence care requires equipment and supplies beyond what is sometimes possible at home.
- Changes in behavior. As the disease progresses, it’s common for those with dementia to experience irritability, agitation, aggression, and sundowning. As these behaviors intensify over time, they can be difficult to redirect and cope with as a solo family caregiver. Memory care staff are trained in person-centered cognitive behavioral techniques to skillfully redirect behavior.
- Delusions and hallucinations. Your loved one may begin to experience delusions and hallucinations with the progression of their dementia. It can be stressful to help your family member navigate life at home when they are seeing and experiencing things that aren’t real. In some cases, it may also put you and your loved one in danger. If you’re trying to determine when memory care is needed, this may be another clear signal.
- Wandering and falls. If your loved one wanders, it can be hard to keep them in a secure environment at home. Unsupervised wandering may result in dangerous falls, injuries, and becoming lost. Wandering behavior that is increasingly difficult to prevent or manage may be a sign that memory care is necessary. Modern memory care communities have built-in safety features to help keep your loved one from getting lost — like continuous-loop walkways with locked exits. No matter where your loved one wanders throughout a memory care community, they should be safe and supervised.
- Refusal of care. One of the most heartbreaking parts of dementia is that your loved one may begin to forget you as their condition progresses. They may even show signs of paranoia that further prevent your care activities. It can become increasingly challenging if your loved one no longer accepts your help. In memory care, the person-centered care techniques commonly taught to dementia care staff may be the best option for your loved one’s successful care.
- Increasing physical decline and health issues. It may be time for memory care when you notice a significant decline in your loved one’s physical health. As dementia progresses into the later stages of the disease, it is common to see a dramatic loss of mobility and worsening of physical health. Memory care communities have entire health care teams to support your loved one, including specialized dieticians, doctors, and therapists. Choose a memory care community that can successfully address your family member’s individualized health needs.
- Depression and isolation. If you’re caring for a family member at home, it may be difficult to create opportunities for recreation and social connection as their health declines. Social isolation and loneliness may have negative effects on your loved one’s wellness, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety, and other dementia behaviors, such as agitation. Memory care communities typically have on-site activity directors who tailor social events for the specialized needs of people with dementia. Social connections remain important as dementia progresses. Many memory care communities can be vibrant and exciting, with plenty for everyone to do, including parties, activities, and entertainment curated just for residents.
Caregiver burnout and stress
As care needs intensify with the progression of dementia, the physical, mental, and emotional ability to care for a loved one at home typically declines. Caregivers may also feel isolated as their loved one’s needs increase and around-the-clock care becomes necessary.
Taking on a dementia patient’s needs all alone is challenging. The stress of dementia caregiving is also known to aggravate other health problems a caregiver may have. This leads to decreased safety and quality of life for both the caregiver and their loved one, a key indicator of when to move to memory care. If you’re a long-distance caregiver, these issues can arise even earlier. Maintaining two households can quickly become difficult to manage. Memory care communities, on the other hand, have an entire staff of people all working toward the success of your loved one.
How to know when memory care is needed
You can typically tell your loved one is ready for memory care when their needs increase beyond what you can provide and afford as a family caregiver at home.
At what point do dementia patients need 24-hour care?
In the advanced stages of dementia, a patient needs someone to watch over them around the clock. Yet, if you care for someone with dementia, you may have to balance the complex responsibilities of providing care with a job, errands, and your own health needs.
You can’t be there every moment. And while it may not be illegal to leave a dementia patient alone, it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure their safety at home 24 hours a day.
Around-the-clock home care or a live-in professional caregiver may be an option, but these options may be more expensive and do not have the infrastructure offered in a memory care community. The specialized environment in a memory care community often features modern safety elements, technologies, and therapies designed just for dementia care.
As you explore dementia care options, you may find that a memory care community offers the environment and specialized staff that better meets your loved one’s unique needs. If urgent care is needed, some communities offer emergency placements for dementia patients. The right dementia care option for your family is the one that offers the services and personalized care plan to support your loved one’s evolving needs.
Trajectory of Mobility Decline by Type of Dementia (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25886717/)
Dementia Caregiving (https://www.caregiving.org/dementia/)
Tips for Caregivers and Families of People with Dementia (https://www.alzheimers.gov/life-with-dementia/tips-caregivers)