Starting Your Search for a Memory Care Community: 5 Steps to Prepare for the Process

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed when the cognitive health of an aging loved one starts to decline. As they begin to require more assistance and care than you can realistically provide, you’re likely to feel the weight of questions concerning their safety and overall well-being. That’s when you look for outside help and consider the option of life in a senior residential community. If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or another form of cognitive impairment, it’s important to think about the best opportunities to tend to their unique memory care needs.

Of course, beginning this process is no quick or easy task, and you may be struggling with worry or dread over how to get started. With an increase in senior memory care communities popping up across the country, there’s no shortage of options to explore and factors to bear in mind. To help put your mind at ease and equip yourself with the best resources to move forward, here are some of the most valuable steps you can take. Use these tips to inform your search for the most suitable memory care community for your aging loved one.

1. Compile a list of local memory care facilities

First things first. Make an organized list of all the memory care communities in your desired location. The simplest way to accomplish this is by contacting the area’s leading aging services agency or local government office. Either one should be able to provide you with a comprehensive list.

Given the high level of importance and expense involved in choosing the right memory care community for the senior in your life, you may also want to consider hiring a specialist. An expert in this field, such as a social worker, elder care manager or elder law attorney, will be able to offer valuable advice and direction that may even end up saving you time and money. They will likely have a great deal of familiarity with local memory care facilities and can probably make the initial contact for you as well as accompany you on any tours, if needed.

2. Get an understanding of pricing factors

You’ll want to know exactly what’s involved in the cost of a memory care community. Throughout your search, you can expect to hear from prospective facilities about the price of two separate costs: the physical space and the care levels.

Unsurprisingly, the cost of memory care is not inexpensive. In the DC area, monthly residency can range from $6,000 to $11,000 for a variety of living arrangements, including dedicated assisted living facilities, group homes, high-rise apartments and designated memory care floors.

Keep in mind that any memory care support you consider should offer (among other things) the following must-haves:

  • Tailored routine care
  • Engaging social activities
  • A secured environment

3. Schedule on-site visits and tours at each memory care community

You’ll want to get a firsthand experience of life at each facility. In doing so, you’ll be able to make some keen observations that you can use in deciding which community is best suited to meet the needs of your loved one.

As you engage in these in-person visits, take time to notice some of the following aspects related to the community’s quality of care and approach to residential life:

  • Appearance of the current residents: Are they well-groomed and clean? Do they seem happy or at least content?
  • Words and actions of the staff: Are they interacting with residents? How do they interact with one another? Are they using kind words and tones? Are they highly focused on the individual needs of residents? Do they know each resident’s name?
  • Available activities and programs: Is there a range of everyday activities to stimulate and engage residents? Research shows that music and spirituality lifts the human spirit, so be particularly curious about what related programs the community offers. This can even include non-religious practices, such as nature walks or poetry readings.
  • Feedback from family members: If possible, engage in conversation with visiting family members of current residents. Feel free to ask for their contact information so you can follow up with any questions or concerns you may have and get personal feedback.
  • Meals and social engagement: What do the residents typically eat, and how do they forge relationships with one another? In fact, ask the staff whether your loved one can return for a meal or a social activity so they can experience these aspects on their own.

4. Focus on how staff members talk about memory care

In all of your conversations, whether over the phone or in person, listen for the phrase “person-centered care.” In practice, person-centered care means that the organization and its staff dig into each resident’s habits, interests, hobbies and even former work life in order to tailor a care plan that uniquely meets their needs. The goal for any community that’s focused on carrying out person-centered care is to provide quality care and an exceptional social experience, regardless of any limitations imposed by the resident’s cognitive impairment.

Take, for example, the case of a resident at Forest Side who became uncooperative and agitated one afternoon, refusing to participate in the day’s studio art session. Because of the facility’s person-centered approach, the staff knew that this resident was a big fan of opera music. They used this knowledge to diffuse his agitation, redirecting him to a quiet area and playing his favorite opera music. Upon recognition of the tune, the resident smiled and became pleasantly transformed. Soon after, he was laughing and inviting the staff to sit with him to enjoy the music.

One of the best ways to alleviate stress and agitation from a senior living with dementia or other form of memory impairment is to integrate their interests from the past. This can include elements like music, food and other sensory experiences. Your aging loved one is apt to access those kinds of memories more readily than most current events or situations. Person-centered care acknowledges this reality and leverages it to create a more enjoyable experience.

5. Conduct a deep dive by asking insightful questions

Certainly, there will be questions that come to you and your aging loved one naturally. But there are some important aspects that you may not be intuitively prepared to think about. To ensure that you’re really uncovering everything you need to know to make the most informed decision on a memory care community, use the following list of questions as a basis for your deep dive.

  • What is the ratio of staff to residents?
  • How are staff trained to carry out their work in memory care?
  • How do you keep residents safe and prevent them from wandering off?
  • Does the facility have a medical team?
  • Other than the costs related to space and levels of care, are there any additional charges? Are there annual increases on these costs? Is there a cap on the rates?
  • Under what circumstances would a facility request that a family hire a private duty aide to supplement the resident’s care?
  • Might a resident ever have to move out? Under what conditions does this occur?
  • Can you provide recent health survey results to determine how regulators have evaluated the facility?
  • Is it possible to speak to current family members on their experience at this facility?
  • As the memory impairment or disease progresses, will my loved one be able to stay at this facility or will they have to move somewhere else?

The answers to these and other important questions you may have will foster much greater insight into the suitability of each community to care for your loved in the type of environment they truly need and/or desire. Be sure to get this peace of mind before you move forward with any final decision-making.

Yes, there’s a great deal to consider when carrying out your search for a memory care community, but with these tips, the process can be much less overwhelming. You’ll be more prepared to find an option that maximizes your loved one’s independence and enables them to live a fulfilling life.

Forest Side, a Forest Hills of DC community, specializes in the care of individuals with memory loss. The community is arranged in small intimate neighborhoods where individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive impairments are cared for in a personalized, resident-centered environment. To learn more or schedule a visit, call us at 202.966.7623.

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