Melanie (Mel) Sullivan, Ed.D., has been named Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer at Ecumen,...
Sign up for Changing Aging News
Choosing a Memory Care Community
Following are key questions we encourage you to answer to help you evaluate and choose a memory care community that provides a good fit for you.
At a Glance
- Is the community on a quiet or busy street? Urban or residential?
- What is the noise level of the environment? Is the building insulated to reduce noise? A low noise level is best for individuals with Alzheimer’s / Dementia because their senses are easily overloaded.
- Is the memory care neighborhood physically separate from the rest of the housing community? Residents with Alzheimer’s / Dementia have different needs than those who are cognitively alert. Too much interaction between them can disturb both sets of residents.
- Is there a “wander guard” system which alerts staff members when residents attempt to leave the building?
- Is the living environment small and homey, or large and institutional? Smaller, more intimate living areas are preferable for individuals with Alzheimer’s / Dementia as they are more likely to become agitated in institutional settings where everything looks the same.
- Is the memory care community all on one level? This is preferable for Alzheimer’s / Dementia residents who are at greater risk of falling or becoming disoriented.
- Are outdoor areas secure for residents to enjoy?
- Are the hallways circular in pattern with a continual flow, or long with dead ends? Individuals with Alzheimer’s / Dementia often seem compelled to wander. Dead ends can lead to agitation and frustration.
- Is light used as a cue to help residents know the time of day? Bright lights should be used during daylight and low lights at night.
- Are visual cues used to help residents orient themselves? Cues include:
- Color. Patterns can confuse people with Alzheimer’s / Dementia, so it’s best if color schemes are bold and simple.
- Locator signs. Simple written words like "kitchen" or "toilet" may be used, but graphics are also important for those who no longer read. Signs should be at eye level, in strong contrasting colors with a flat finish.
- "Memory boxes." These displays contain old photos and mementos to help residents identify their rooms. Alzheimer’s and Dementia often impair short-term memory while leaving long-term memory intact. They also provide staff members and visitors valuable insight about the person’s history.
- Large clocks and calendars. These help orient residents to time of day and season.
- What are examples of how the staff members empower each resident?
- How does the staff empower a person to engage in life and activities that are special for that individual?
- How much does the staff know about each person’s personal history?
- Will the staff allow you to observe for a day so that you can see what daily life is like at the site?
- Are there spiritual services that will meet your individual needs?
- Are pets allowed?
- Are smaller, separate rooms available for activities and socialization, as opposed to larger, communal spaces? It is common for people with Alzheimer’s / Dementia to become disoriented in large rooms with multiple activities.
- What types of activities are arranged for residents with Alzheimer’s / Dementia?
- Are activities and meals customized to meet the preferences of the residents?
- What are examples of conditions that might require a resident to move to another location?
Staff and Services
- What is the staff-to-resident ratio? The ratio should be at least 1 to 7 (higher ratio for residents with later-stage dementia).
- What type of specialized training has the memory care staff received?
- What type of services and programming are provided to address the needs of those with memory impairment?
- If a resident shows (a specific behavior your loved one tends to exhibit), how would the staff react? (Examples: tearful, combative, accusatory, asking repetitive questions, etc.).
- What is the community’s policy on physical restraints?
- Are anti-anxiety/ psychotropic medications used regularly among residents in this community?