8 Signs It’s Time for Memory Care

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on August 06, 2022
4 min read

Making the decision to move a loved one to a memory care facility can represent a major lifestyle change. It’s not easy to think about a transition away from independent living.

But dementia and Alzheimer’s disease progress over time. Most family members aren’t equipped to care for someone with advanced forms of these conditions. The time to have this discussion is before symptoms get worse.

It’s much easier to do research and make these decisions when you’re calm and well-prepared than when you’re in a crisis situation. At some stage, people with dementia may need round-the-clock care. Memory care could be the best, safest, and less stressful option for both them and their caregivers.

Unlike a standard assisted living facility or nursing home, memory care caters to people with problems with memory and thinking (called cognitive impairments). Trained staff at these facilities care for people living with dementia, later stages of Alzheimer’s, or other memory loss conditions.

A memory care facility also offers residents meal preparation, housekeeping, and laundry as well as social activities, many of which are intended to benefit their physical and mental wellness. These facilities have extra safety precautions, like secured doors. They may use visual cues, like pictures or signs, to help residents do things independently.

Memory care facilities can be part of assisted living centers, nursing homes, or retirement homes. They can also be standalone facilities.

There are no specific rules for when someone needs full-time care. A doctor can do tests to determine if their cognitive impairment has gotten worse. If you or your loved one is already in assisted living or a nursing home, staff there may notice signs that they need a higher level of care. And certain changes in their behavior, appearance, and environment can provide clues:

  1. They’re not paying their bills. While anyone can forget a payment once in a while, it’s cause for concern if you start getting confused calls wondering why the cable or phone was turned off.
  2. They neglect personal hygiene and housekeeping. They may have forgotten how to do household chores or have trouble bathing and dressing themselves.
  3. They become unsafe in their current home. They may leave the stove on, trip and fall, or wander off.
  4. They no longer take good care of their health. They may forget their medication or take too much of it. They don’t make doctor’s appointments. They skip meals.
  5. They lose track of the passage of time. In early dementia, they might forget the date and then remember it later. But forgetting the year or season is cause for concern.
  6. They withdraw from hobbies and social situations. Research has shown that social isolation worsens dementia symptoms. Most memory centers offer activities and emphasize socialization.
  7. You worry about your own safety. Some advanced forms of dementia can lead to aggressive and abusive behaviors.
  8. Caregiving has taken a mental and physical toll on you. You’re stressed and exhausted and neglecting your own needs.

The basics include safety and comfort, a compassionate and well-trained staff, stimulating activities, and a facility close to family members and friends.

When you interview directors at memory care facilities, come prepared with these questions:

  • Is there a medical doctor and nurse on staff at all times?
  • What is the staff-to-client ratio?
  • What type of memory care training has the staff completed?
  • Is there a lot of turnover?
  • What types of medical services do you offer?
  • What types of daily activities are offered, and how often does the schedule change?
  • What type of security is on staff? How safe is the facility? Do you do background checks on your staff?
  • Are residents grouped by cognitive level?
  • How do you handle confused and aggressive residents?
  • What types of meal plans do you have? (Ask to see menus.)
  • How often do you provide updates on residents’ health?

When touring the facility, see if it’s well-lit, clean, and easy to navigate. Is the TV on and are the residents sitting around unresponsive and bored, or do they look happy and engaged? Is the staff willing to answer your questions?

Talk to the residents, if possible. If any of their family members are there, ask them about the facility. It’s always helpful to have an insider’s point of view.

Costs vary and depend on the type of care provider. According to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, monthly rent for memory care averages $6,935. It’s less expensive than the average for a nursing home and more expensive than the average for assisted living.

Unfortunately, Medicare plans don’t cover room and board or personal care (like bathing and giving out medication) at memory care facilities. Families can use long-term care insurance or pay out of pocket for those services. Those who sell their homes to move into a memory care facility may use those funds to pay for their care.

Veterans benefits help cover costs for veterans and their surviving spouses over age 65.

Here are some of the services Medicare does pay for:

  • Some doctor’s fees and medical items for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s who are 65 or older
  • Under some circumstances, up to 100 days of skilled care at a nursing home – but not for long-term, residential nursing home care
  • Prescription medications, if you have Part D Medicare
  • Hospice care related to pain relief and end-stage dementia

If you have questions about cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, dementia, long-term care decisions, and memory care, the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association may be able to help. You can talk to someone via live chat or call the free 24/7 hotline at 800-272-3900.