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My dad has vascular dementia and is showing a downward progression in cognition; however, when I tour memory care units, he seems to be way more functional, social and "with it" than the residents we see. How do I know if he could like with my mom (non dementia) in assisted living as opposed to having to place him into the memory care unit?

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I agree with akdaughter on this.I know many assisted living facilities in the country as i did a lot of research on them a while ago for my dad who is also suffering from Alzheimers.He is now at Luvida Care Solutions Belton, Texas. And it feels good to see him doing well there.
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This is a tough decision. I felt the same way about my mom when I looked at memory care facilities. Many of the residents could not turn on the TV, talk on the phone, or carry on a conversation (even a repetitive one), all things that my mom could still do. Living with me was not an option because she needed full-time supervision because of things like leaving the stove on, trying to go up and down stairs alone, etc, and in home care when I was working was cost prohibitive. I decided to go the AL route because I felt that living with a community of very low functioning residents in a memory care facility would cause her to decline even faster.

However, there are major differences in AL facilities. The first one where my mom lived basically provided a beautiful apartment with housekeeping services, three meals per day, occasional entertainment and activities, and help available at the push of a button. Mom spent much of her time sitting in her chair with little interaction with staff, and interaction with other residents only at mealtimes. A few months ago I moved her to a different AL facility where there is a much higher level of assistance. Staff helps her dress in the morning, prepare for bed, comes and gets her for activities (there are two or three things each day ranging from exercise to sing-alongs to bingo and trivia, etc), and checks on her during the night. She has contact with staff at least six times each day in her apartment, in addition to meal times. Although the move was disorienting to her for a few days, she has adjusted well, and no longer remembers that she moved.

I encourage you to visit several AL facilities, talk to residents and staff (not just the marketing person), ask if there are any family members of residents you could speak to, sample the food and wander around for a while to observe the staff in action. Try to determine if your dad if functioning at a level similar to the residents there. If your mom could move with your dad, it would probably make his adjustment easier. Most facilities offer a "second resident" rate which is a fraction of the basic rate.
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If your dad were to move into AL with your mom his downward progression would continue and may even be exacerbated by the change. You may end up having to move him again to memory care. That's a lot of change. Sunflo had some good suggestions about an assessment for your dad. It may just be easier on everyone if he stayed put for the time being until memory care became appropriate for him instead of moving him around from place to place. The dementia will continue to progress and in the meantime you could get an assessment for your dad and have plans in place to move him to memory care when the time comes. If he did move to AL will he have assistance available? In home help, anything like that?
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In facilities I'm familiar with, they will have a skilled nurse review the doctor records and admission application. Then she will perform an independent assessment of the resident before admitting to make a recommendation for level of care BEFORE the person is admitted. I had similar concern for my mom; they explained that she would be placed in dementia care and see how she did, if they felt she was more capable to care for herself and AL unit was better fit, then they would move her to AL and adjust monthly payment to lower care cost. This was a facility that had wide range of care.

The independent nurse was contracted by them so she was well versed in level of care the facility and different units could offer.

I also visited before hand a couple times and talked with residents and their loved ones to see what their experience was on both AL and dementia care unit sides. The staff also try to accommodate higher functioning residents when they can; but most loved ones admitted it was up to them to ensure the extra stimulation or outings because the staff and activity level are geared to the "majority" -- just like in a classroom...
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