Making the move to memory care
11/17/2022 by Natalie Mohammad, APRN, C.N.P.
Caring or a loved one with dementia can be physically and emotionally challenging. Many people want to stay in their home for as long as possible. Yet, living at home until the very end is not always feasible. When do you know if your loved one needs more care than you can provide?
As a nurse practitioner in both our nursing home and home-based care programs, I have journeyed with many families in this transition. Oftentimes, your loved one requires more physical care than you or your family can manage. They may need help getting to and from the bathroom. Your back may start to hurt at the end of the day from helping them bathe. We always worry when one elderly spouse is caring for another elderly spouse. When caring for your loved one puts you or your family at physical harm, seeking care elsewhere is appropriate.
For patients with dementia, oftentimes they begin to have emotional needs that are hard for loved ones to manage. They may begin wandering and leaving the home, which puts them at a high safety risk. They may start having verbal outbursts or yelling for no reason. These are not uncommon as dementia worsens. If you find yourself losing sleep, not eating well or your health worsens, it may be time to seek care for your loved one as a way to care for yourself.
There are many options for care in our community. Many assisted living facilities have attached memory care units. These units are usually locked. This means they have alarms in case your loved one tries to leave. Don't worry though. It's against fire code for them to be locked. All the doors can open, but they have passcodes to prevent the alarms from ringing.
Memory care units also have nursing assistants to provide bathing and dressing support to your loved one. Nursing staff will manage medications and monitor your loved one. They can still leave the unit for medical appointments or to visit family. You, as family, are always welcome to visit them.
Adult foster homes, or group homes, are another living idea in our town. These are residential homes that are modified to have 4 or 5 residents living in them. It has more of a family environment. Medications and basic needs are provided by staff, often the family who live at the home. They are a great alternative to assisted living/memory care.
Lastly, please know that any adjustment to a new living environment is difficult. People with dementia require extra time to adjust to change. It may take 2 weeks or 2 months for them to settle into their new "home." Having familiar objects around is helpful. Sometimes your presence is helpful, and sometimes it is not. Often, your loved one will want to leave when you leave. That is hard on you both. Don't take it personally. In time, the move gets easier on everyone. Your safety and the safety of your loved one is important.
Natalie Mohammad, APRN, C.N.P., is a nurse practitioner in Community Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care in Rochester, Minnesota. She cares for the elderly in our community, both in the Homebound and Skilled Nursing Facility practices.