What’s the best community for a parent who has dementia?

In the prior article Finding Care for an Elderly Parent with Substance Abuse: What are my options?, Sandi Flores, a registered nurse with over 25 years of experience in the assisted living industry, described how families may find an appropriate and caring environment for parents in this difficult situation. In this article, she shares her insight on how to determine whether loved ones require assisted living or memory care if they exhibit signs of dementia and a tendency to wander.

Seniors who display wandering behavior require safety measuresWandering is a common symptom of dementia, with the Alzheimer’s Association reporting that six in ten people will wander. The news frequently has articles about seniors becoming lost while running an errand, and though sometimes the family is reunited, unfortunately this is not always the case. For this reason, many communities that provide memory care advertise that they are a secure environment offering features such as alarmed doors, a secured outdoor courtyard, and entrances that are monitored around-the-clock. Many memory care communities also offer a curriculum of activities designed to engage those with dementia, and newer constructions are specifically designed to allow residents to freely and safely wander.

Despite these supportive features, many people do not want their parent to move into memory care and would prefer an assisted living community. The reason for this, Flores says, is that a stigma still exists about memory loss, and in spite of the Alzheimer’s Association efforts and celebrity campaigns to demystify and raise awareness, many families do not want their friends to know their parent is in a memory care community. This results in families in denial of the need of a safe living situation that their parent requires, especially if they exhibit wandering, Flores says.

One thing that complicates choosing an appropriate community is predicting wandering behavior in parents with dementia. “There is not a single validated tool to measure the propensity to wander,” Flores says, adding that a parent may not wander at home, but when placed in a new environment—where everything is unfamiliar—wandering could result. Being able to navigate through the community is important to a resident’s ability to thrive in their new home, and she adds that it is very dangerous if parents are moved into the wrong environment, as their safety could be jeopardized.

Seniors with Alzheimer's or dementia may require specialized memory careWhen advising families who are insistent that memory care is not needed or their parents exhibit only mild symptoms of dementia, Flores recommends assigning a resident buddy upon joining the community. This way, the new resident can be monitored in a less intrusive way to determine if wandering will occur. In her experience, if a parent is prone to wandering, it will happen within 72 hours of moving into their new home. However, even if a community offers more frequent check-ins, this alone is not enough to guarantee wandering will not occur.

Even if a parent with dementia does not exhibit wandering, they could still benefit from the programming that memory care communities offer. “I like it when memory care is available [in addition to assisted living],” Flores says. Many assisted living communities now offer memory care services as well, making the transition to higher levels of care more seamless. Yet, even when families recognize that dementia requires a unique type of care, the steeper costs associated with that care–with monthly prices ranging from $3,500 to over $7,000—cause many to balk at acknowledging a need for memory care.

The good news is that not everyone with dementia wanders or needs an enhanced environment, Flores says. More communities are offering “memory care light” to keep residents comfortable and safe and are using more virtual caregiver technologies to remain non-intrusive, demonstrating what she proudly refers to as “creative side of nursing.”

Flores emphasizes that families should be honest about what their parent needs, not only to remain safe, but also to live the rest of their life comfortably. And if memory care is required, she says families should not “think of it as a sentence,” but as an opportunity because these communities offer meaningful activities that promote their parents’ well-being, reconnecting them with the beauty of life.

Andrea Watts is content writer for SeniorHomes.com, and in addition to covering senior living, she also writes on sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWestThe Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.

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