Looking for a dementia care home for your parent? Here are your basic choices explained. Plus, 14 questions you should ask.
It can be hard to make sense of all the different choices when you’re looking for a dementia care community for your mom or dad. There are a lot of terms in play: assisted living, supported care, nursing homes, Alzheimer’s special care centers, memory care, and continuing care retirement communities (CCRC). It can be hard to know which ones apply to seniors needing support for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
What’s the difference between all of them? Is there a difference? And most importantly, what’s the best fit for your parent?
What the different terms mean
Levels of care
- Independent Living – For older adults who can still look after themselves for the most part. A type of seniors housing that may offer social activities, transportation, and other amenities, but limited care May be appropriate for someone in only the very early stage of dementia.
- Assisted Living – Combines the amenities of independent living with additional features like meals, help with personal care, and medication monitoring. Look for assisted living that’s specifically designed for people with mild dementia (not all are).
- Memory Care / Memory Support – Exclusively for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. May be standalone or part of a senior living community that offers other types of care. A feature is a secure entry/exit (to prevent residents with dementia from wandering away from the property and getting lost). Staff are specially trained in dementia care. Appropriate for someone with dementia who needs frequent support and/or supervision.
It’s important to recognize that there can be a huge amount of variation from one place to the next when it comes to what’s included within each level of support. For instance, assisted living at senior living community A may look a lot different from assisted living at senior living community B. Similarly, all Alzheimer’s special care units/centers are not created equal.
Types of properties
- Senior living communities – A residential community that may offer one or more of the different levels of care: independent living, assisted living, and memory care.
- Nursing homes – A medical facility also called skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities, rehab centers, or custodial care. Provides around-the-clock care and long-term medical treatment. May contain an Alzheimer’s special care unit for patients with additional care needs.
- Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) – Also called life plan communities. A range of supports is offered within a single community (independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing). Specialized dementia care may or may not be included. As a resident’s needs change, they can move to a different level of support without having to leave the community.
Notice that if you’re looking for an Alzheimer’s special care unit, you may find one at any of these three types of properties: a retirement home, a nursing home, or a continuing care retirement community. However, not all retirement homes, nursing homes, or continuing care retirement communities have Alzheimer’s special care units.
Deciding whether a specific memory care community is a good fit
Here’s some advice from the Alzheimer’s Association about choosing a dementia care home:
- Plan to visit several care communities. Make an appointment for your first visit, but also make one or two unannounced visits. Look around and talk with the staff, as well as residents and their families. Ask questions and make observations. Visit the communities at different times of the day, including mealtimes. You may even want to sample the food.
- When you visit a care community, ask to see the latest survey/inspection report and, in some states, the Special Care Unit Disclosure form — which they are required to provide. The report and the disclosure form can give you a picture of the facility’s services. If it is a nursing home, you can go to Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website to learn how it compares to the national average.
A word of advice: Don’t focus too much on the interior décor. Yes, it’s important, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Swanky design may be impressive, but it won’t amount to much if the staff can’t meet your parent’s needs. Remember to pay attention to the people-side of the equation.
Some questions to ask
- How do you keep families involved?
- What support can my parent expect to receive with daily activities?
- Is medical care provided or available?
- What can my parent bring when they move in?
- How will you keep them active and engaged despite their dementia?
- How will you make them feel at home?
- How will you get to know them (their personal background and life story)?
- What is the rate of falls here?
- How well do residents get along with each other? How do you manage any conflicts that might arise?
- How does staff manage challenging behavior?
- Are indoor and outdoor spaces safe and secure?
- How will my parent’s nutrition be monitored?
- Can family visit during mealtimes?
- Will my parent be forced to move as their condition progresses or will they be able to “age in place”?
Looking for more advice on how to support a family member with dementia? We’re experts in dementia care and we’re here to help. Contact us at a community near you, we’ll be happy to assist you.