7 Objective Signs That It’s Time to Move to Memory Care
It’s difficult to know when your loved one needs to change living situations, because the disease progresses so slowly, and often times the changes that occur go unrecognized. Those who spend the most time providing care tend to diminish how much they have progressed in their dementia because the changes weren’t quick or drastic, so even if your mind says it’s getting worse, your heart and emotions might argue otherwise. In short, it’s rare that family looks at the progression and care needs objectively – guilt and emotion often play a huge part in the decision to place a loved one in memory care. The truth is that people receive the greatest benefit from memory care communities during the early and mid stages of their dementia – with programs and activities designed to stimulate the mind and slow the progression of the disease. But what objective signs should you look for that can add confidence to your decision that it’s the right time?
1. When even short periods of time alone at home aren’t safe for them
There was likely a progression in their inability to care for themselves when alone. Needing queues for personal hygiene, medications, or meals is one thing, but when you are afraid to leave them alone in the house for more than an hour because they may wander, injure themselves, get into something dangerous, experience high anxiety or agitation because you’re not there, or lack the ability to act appropriately in the event of an emergency, it’s likely time to consider placing them in an environment that caters to their care and safety.
2. When caregiver stress becomes overwhelming
Taking care of someone with dementia can be difficult, to say the least, and loving the person you are caring for doesn’t make it any easier. Likewise, feeling stress from the constant tasks and worrying doesn’t mean that you love them any less, it just means that you that you are taking too much on yourself.
Studies by the Alzheimer’s Association show that a least 60% of family caregivers report “high” or “very high” levels of stress, and more than 40% are diagnosed with clinical depression at some point during their time of being a caregiver. Not only that, according to the American Medical Association, elderly caregivers are at a 63% higher risk of mortality than non-caregivers, and more than 70% of caregivers over the age of 70 pass away before the person that they a caring for: most often from stress related illness. When caregiving becomes stressful and it starts to affect your own health and happiness (how are you sleeping?), it’s time to think very seriously about a professional memory care community.
3. When social life shrinks to the point of isolation
Typically, someone with dementia will become less social over time as their world becomes more confusing. The mental impacts of most forms of dementia cause a person to retreat from socialization. Living at home makes it much easier to avoid others, self-isolate, and spend days in the “safety” of a single room . . . usually in a bed or favorite chair. As the disease progresses, there’s more confusion, less stimulation and inward retreat often becomes a self-reinforcing circle.
Interacting with a diversity of people is important because studies have shown
that social isolation exacerbates symptoms and increases the rate of disease progression. Memory care communities, by design, encourage social interaction and have programs designed to reduce loneliness, encourage interaction, increase brain stimulation, and provide a higher quality of life. Many of these programs have also been shown to slow the progression of many different forms of dementia.
4. When your home is no longer a safe environment
This is one that is often overlooked or minimized in the mind of the family caregiver. “There’s no real danger because I’m always with them” is a mantra often heard from caregivers in their home. But is that really the case? Do you find yourself jumping up to check on them because you heard something in the kitchen? Are they able to look after their personal hygiene needs in the bathroom on their own? Or do the two of you often tangle about on vinyl or tile floors that are wet and slippery?
With the progression of dementia, common household appliances can be cause for concern, and present issues of safety. A stove/oven, garbage disposal, mechanical equipment in a garage or shed, even knives and other utensils can pose dangers to someone with dementia. And let’s not forget about cleaners and other chemicals, medications (even over-the-counter), or something as simple as oils and other food additives that can have dire consequences should excessive amounts be ingested. If you find yourself having to constantly monitor your loved one, or make changes to your house like locks on cupboards and door alarms, a dedicated environment like a memory community is probably the safer, and better option.
5. When their physical health is deteriorating
A decline in overall health for someone with dementia can be a major sign of a need for more care than what is being provided in the home. Watch for unexplained weight loss, hunched posture, and frequent bruising. Difficulty with standing or walking without assistance is something that can lead to more health issues – many of them avoidable with proper diet, exercise, and physical or occupational therapy that’s often provided in a memory care community. On the opposite end of that spectrum, sitting or sleeping for too long is another dementia-related behavior that has been shown to be unhealthy. Wandering and becoming lost can be mediated with technology
but are also incredibly serious and dangerous behaviors.
A dedicated memory care community is equipped to assist at both ends of the behavioral spectrum. The physical layout of a purpose-built community and the scheduled activities can calm active patients, allow for secure and structured wandering, and establish routine. Inactive individuals are encouraged to become more active or may do so by witnessing others and there is undeniable benefit from provided opportunities for frequent social interaction. Staff is trained to motivate dementia sufferers to interact with others, participate, move around and even go outside. If this isn’t happening at home, your loved one may experience physical decline at a much faster pace, and a professional memory care community can help.
6. When the primary caregiver isn’t able to provide the best care possible
This one is difficult. A loving and caring spouse or adult child just may not be equipped to be a good caregiver to a person with dementia. Sometimes due to their personal schedules, sometimes due to illness or physical inability, and sometimes due to not having the right temperament. Not everyone is designed to be a great caregiver – regardless of how much you love them. Caregiving for dementia can be tedious, frustrating and exhausting, even during the early stages. Over time and with the progression of the disease, behaviors will likely become even more challenging, and care needs more demanding. Memory care communities employ trained caregivers, many who have made a career of caring for those in need. Most of them have had some sort of formal training, and they complete continuing education programs designed to ensure that the latest and best memory care initiatives are provided to your loved one. If you have any reservation about your ability to care for your loved one now or in the near future, then it’s most likely time to have them thrive in a memory care community.
7. You know in your mind, but it’s guilt and emotion saying no.
Again, all of the objective reasons can be telling you “It’s time”, but emotions can fight against everything that you know in your head. It is too often an emotional choice that holds you back from making the best decision for you and your loved one. But if you find a way to look past the guilt and other emotions, you can tell when something’s wrong, and that nagging intuition to do something as the signs rack up is not to be ignored. If you see one or more of these signs that it’s time, you need to listen to your instincts. There’s no blame, and no fault, in making tough life changes, especially one that will bring a better level of care, a safer environment, and a program that helps your loved one experience a higher quality of life. There’s no guilt in caring for yourself and taking necessary steps to ensure that you are around to advocate for and support your loved one on their journey. Dementia and related memory diseases are manageable if family caregivers make sound choices based on what’s best for all involved including themselves. A professional memory care community is absolutely the best choice at some point for virtually everyone living with dementia – but it’s up to you to decide at what that point is.