Dementia and Alzheimer’s are never easy for families to deal with. In addition to the physical and mental tolls they exact, they can cause quite a bit of uncertainty and worry.
Will my spouse be able to care for me? Is my mom or dad still able to safely age at home right now? When should we consider placement?
These are all questions people ask themselves after a diagnosis. In most cases, a move to (or placement in) a retirement community is an inevitability. And it’s best to plan ahead so that your family is ready when the time is right.
Think ahead to the kind of care you’ll need
When arranging a move to a retirement community, most senior parents and their adult children prepare a list of what criteria they're hoping for — amenities, recreation activities, on-site health care and so on. Future needs regarding personal care and memory care rarely top the list.
With Alzheimer’s incidence on the rise, memory care is an essential consideration as you choose a retirement community.
Some retirement communities provide no memory care services at all. Other senior communities, like Louisville’s Episcopal Church Home, provide customized levels of memory care for residents with pre-dementia, moderate cognitive changes, and late-stage Alzheimer's.
Key aspects to consider when looking for the right care provider
1. Determine whether the treatment plans offered fit your values and wishes
Alzheimer's and dementia are complex; they can affect all aspects of life and a person's overall health. Choose an organization that aligns with your family's values, needs, and wants for treatment options.
For example, if your parent or spouse eats a whole foods diet and uses specially prescribed supplements instead of medications only, be sure the community you choose employs staff qualified to manage those aspects.
2. Pay close attention to cleanliness
It's common for seniors with memory concerns to need extra assistance with personal care, including bathing and using the bathroom. If the level of care is such that they will be in their own on-site room, it's imperative to know how your parent or spouse will be looked after.
Cleanliness — of common spaces, personal rooms, and the residents themselves — can be an indicator of how well a community is able to care for people who need extra help.
3. Make sure that the programs you consider support memory care.
How do you do that? Ask! Find out how the community’s activities and wellness initiatives support fun, interactive memory care. You'll want to know that your loved one is being engaged in a natural setting.
4. Look at the menu
Study after study shows that nutrition is linked to enhancing and preserving memory. This is especially important for people with Alzheimer's.
Some seniors experiencing memory issues have a low appetite or forget to eat. Communities with superior nutrition programs focus on real, whole foods that are carefully planned to help sustain maximum wellness for residents. If your parent has any dietary restrictions, for example, ask whether the kitchen will be able to meet these needs adequately.
5. Find out about visiting policies and schedules
You'll want to visit your loved one as much as possible, so be sure the visitor's policies and schedules are flexible and respectful of your family’s privacy.
Can grandchildren stay overnight in their grandparent’s senior living apartment? Does the community have conference rooms and event spaces that your family can reserve for birthdays, anniversary celebrations, and like?
6. Are residents free to move about in a secure environment?
You'll have a big checklist, but this is most important. Go for a tour and inquire about the community’s wandering management protocols and security measures.
Modern memory care communities allow (and, in fact, encourage) wandering behaviors in their dementia residents. Why? Because there’s some evidence that wandering, accomplished in safe, closely-monitored environments, may be beneficial! It provides visual and motor stimuli and may help to preserve brain function.
To that end, wandering-friendly dementia care centers have open-layout community spaces with wide, colorful, and brightly-lit corridors. The doors to the outside, however, are secured so that there’s no worrying about an elder becoming lost.
7. Choose a community that fits your budget
The cost of personal care should be commensurate to the services provided and the location of the community.
Review which services are included in total fees, which may be added on, etc. The best not-for-profit retirement communities have financial safety net programs in place should an elder outlive his or her resources.
Here at Episcopal Retirement Services, for example, our mission states that we’ll never ask residents to leave due to financial hardship. Care for people who have outlived their means is subsidized through our donation-supported Good Samaritan Fund.
8. Understand the level of medical care available to your loved one
Are geriatricians or nurse practitioners on-site? How about dentists and orthopedists? Does a podiatrist visit on a regular basis to help care for diabetic residents’ feet? How about senior nutrition specialists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, fitness coaches, and wellness experts?
If not, does the retirement community offer its residents safe, complimentary transportation to their off-site medical and wellness appointments?
9. Check up on accreditations
Before you fall in love with the community, be sure they are fully accredited to care for persons with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. This includes looking at licensure—both the organization and its individual staff members.
10. Trust your instincts.
While it may be emotionally difficult to take this step, you’ll see the value in enlisting caring, trained professionals to assist in your senior loved one’s memory care.
Remember, don’t take anything at face value. When touring retirement communities — be they here in Louisville or elsewhere — look around. Observe how their residents are being treated and how their residents are interacting with staff, visitors, and with each other.
Do the seniors living and receiving care there seem happy? Do they seem well looked after? Your gut and a bit of investigating on your own will tell you far more than a resident director’s pitch.
Learn more about Episcopal Church Home’s person-centered approach to senior care.
If your older loved one needs residential retirement care in Louisville, we’d love to show you the difference holistic care can make in seniors’ overall well-being.
Click here to learn more about our senior services — from assisted living to residential memory care — then come take a tour of our Kentucky retirement community.