Families struggling with dementia are far from alone. The World Health Organization estimates that as of 2017, some 47 million people worldwide live with a form of dementia, and those numbers are expected to triple by 2050.
Despite the disease’s prevalence, it can be difficult for families to know when memory issues have reached a point where it's time to seek long-term care.
What Is Memory Care?Memory care is a type of long-term care tailored to the needs of people with dementia, Alzheimer's disease or other forms of memory loss. Whether the care is provided in a 24-hour community such as an assisted living facility or in an adult daycare program, it usually includes assistance with daily activities, stimulating recreational activities and oversight to keep residents safe.
Memory care is offered within a growing number of assisted living communities, usually in a separate wing or building. Memory care providers are required to provide specialized nursing and medical care as well as provisions for safety and security, so it's important to talk to any memory care community you’re considering about how they plan to meet your loved one's specific needs.
Not every older adult with dementia or memory issues requires professional memory care. In fact, individuals in the early stages of dementia may even continue to live alone successfully, especially with some planning for safety and self-care.
As memory issues progress, though, it becomes unsafe to live alone and the demands of caring for a loved one with dementia often become too much for family members to manage on their own.
Here are seven signs it may be time to share the responsibility of their care with professionals.
1. Unsafe WanderingDr. Susann Varano, resident care specialist at Maplewood Senior Living, a senior living company with communities across several eastern states, says unsafe wandering is a definite sign that it's time to seek professional assistance. She notes that someone trying to leave the house in the middle of the night is already at that level of "unsafe wandering" and recommends family members begin looking into assisted living options with memory care services when they notice this behavior.
2. Loss of Interest in Regular ActivitiesLynn Ivey, founder and CEO of memory wellness day center The Ivey in Charlotte, NC, understands well the experience of seeking services for a loved one with memory issues – her mother had Alzheimer's disease.
Ivey says one sign that led her own family to seek memory care services was her mother’s lack of interest in normal activities. "She lost interest in preparing meals in the kitchen," Ivey recalls, "and seemed to have lost confidence in herself to know what to do."
3. Struggling With Basic Activities and ADLsBeing unable to perform normal activities — such as cooking a meal — or even more basic activities of daily living, such as buttoning a shirt, can be a sign that it's time for professional intervention, says Varano. If a loved one "forgets how to use objects or puts items in inappropriate places, such as perishable foods under sofa cushions," families may need to take action, she says.
Trouble with tasks like opening a lock with a key can also be a sign, but so can performing tasks that are unnecessary, such as paying bills that aren't due, Varano notes.
4. Not Knowing Where They Are, Even at Home"Mom woke up one Sunday afternoon from a nap," says Ivey, "and was completely confused about who she was or where she was. After several hours, it all came back to her, but it was most likely a mini-stroke, and things really changed for all of us after that."
Getting lost in extremely familiar places is a big red flag that should clue families in that it's time to consider other care options.
5. Violent Mood Swings or BehaviorMajor behavioral changes are another signal that it’s time to consider memory care, and that includes violent behavior. Varano says to look for signs such as "being overly paranoid. . . or violent outbursts" to know when it might be time to seek memory care for your loved one.
Ivey agrees, noting that behavior changes were one factor that led her family to seek adult daycare services for her mom. "Often there were mood changes, including getting angry for no apparent reason."
6. More Bad Days Than GoodA single occurrence of one of the aforementioned signs may not mean it's time to look into memory care options. Varano advises families to look at the overall picture if dangerous behavior such as unsafe wandering isn't a factor.
"We all have good days and bad days," she says. "It is when the number of bad days outweigh the good days that I recommend looking into alternate living arrangements such as assisted living with memory care."
7. Increased Fatigue, Frustration and Depression of Primary CaregiverIvey reminds families that the decision to seek professional memory care should be a holistic one. Many times, a spouse, sibling or adult child becomes the primary caregiver for someone with dementia or other memory issues, and it’s important to weigh their health and well being, too..
"When my Dad began to show signs of fatigue and inability to concentrate, we decided that we had to find a way to give him relief,” Ivey says. “He was living both of their lives as Mom depended on him for more and more of her daily activities, and the effort was exhausting. We feared for his health."
If you are seeing some of these signs with your loved one and are planning to seek memory care services, Varano advises that families take time to understand everything that a facility or provider has to offer. "You as a family member have to feel a level of comfort to ensure it will be a good fit."