memory careThe onset of dementia can be a scary and upsetting time for those going through it, as well as their families. To offset some of that stress, it can be helpful to start planning early. When looking into assisted living homes, take note of the ones that feature memory care on the same campus.

“Memory care is for folks who have a serious cognitive impairment,” says Heather Pippen, Executive Director of Heritage Green. “The physician has recognized this, and it’s a safe, secure environment. It’s really specific to folks with dementia. Our staff is all trained to work with someone with cognitive impairment, and to redirect someone if they’re having a bad day. The activities are structured to things they can do and feel good about. Everything we do is for that.”

Pat Martin of Richfield Retirement says that their assisted living staff is trained to pick up on signs that it’s time to move to memory care, and there are signs that families can look for at home, as well. “What we look at is people wandering in and out of other people’s rooms,” Martin says. “Or people may still be at home, and they’re wandering out of their home, knocking on neighbors’ doors at odd hours, calling the family in the middle of the night. We also find that either they’re not eating and think they just ate, so they’re losing weight, or they think that they have not eaten anything, so they’re eating constantly and gaining weight.”

And as unpleasant as these changes can be, it is very important to plan ahead, as the chances are relatively high that seniors will encounter them. “The Alzheimers Association says half of people over 85 will develop dementia or Alzheimers,” Pippen says. “So it is a likelihood that it is coming. If you have a community with memory care, they’re going to be able to meet your needs for the long term. If the community does not have it, you’re likely to be asked to leave when those issues arise. It’s so much better to be able to remain at the community. And our assisted living even has a program for mild cognitive impairment. It’s a structured activity program for if the resident is not ready for the memory care community, but they do benefit from that program.”

Moving into an assisted living community before there is the need for memory care can help with the transition, by getting seniors used to living in a new community before the effects set in. “We know that it’s going to be a big adjustment bringing them into a facility, so we try to place them in our assisted living,” Martin says. “Then when it’s time, they can move over.”

Pippen says of her assisted living community: “We’re offering all of this in a home-like environment and helping people remain as independent as possible, but we’re providing all the support for them to be successful in life. That’s great for the resident, but also the family who might have been trying to provide care at home and found it to be very difficult. It switches again to where they can just be a family member and not a caregiver. That change in relationship is very important.”

And the psychological and physical well-being of everyone involved remains a concern, as well. “We offer support for the families, too,” Pippen says. “We’re really helping to take care of them. We have a monthly support group here on site with someone who’s trained with the Alzheimers Association. The medical director we have comes to both communities: assisted living and memory care. He’s on call for us always, and he comes on site every week. It’s very convenient, and he’s very responsive. And then we have Dr. Betts, who is a geriatric psychiatrist, and he really helps folks with the memory issues. A lot of residents are already patients of his when they come in.”

And when you find the right community, you’ll know that your loved one is at home, regardless of their level of care. “It’s a family feeling at our community,” Martin says. “We embrace each other. Most of the people just have such a big heart. There’s love for these residents that I see in so much of our staff. They hug them and nurture them. I feel like we go out of our way to make not only the resident, but the families as happy as possible. It is a big change from home to here, and it’s a lot of work at first to gain that trust from the residents and their families.”

“I just love coming to work everyday because what I do is make people happy,” Pippen says. “I’m coming in to make the residents’ lives as happy as they can be.”