Is it time for residential memory care for my loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia?

Written by: Anne Farley, LSW, MS Coun., CDP, Director of Community Relations, Ganzhorn Suites (Columbus, OH)

No matter how exceptional the care, or how skilled and kind the staff is, placing a loved one into residential memory care can be a very emotional and difficult decision. Moreover, there is no universal criteria for the right time to make a move. Factors like the circle of support you may have and the form of dementia your loved one has, and its progression, differ greatly from person to person and family to family. Even factors like a loved one’s gender, size, and weight can make a big difference in how challenging it is to meet their needs at home. As Certified Dementia Practitioners and social services professionals, our job is to be a resource for families making these decisions. When we meet with people considering The Ganzhorn Suites for a loved one we educate them about memory care. We also help facilitate support groups for Alzheimer’s/dementia families and caregivers. Ultimately, we see many individuals with Alzheimer’s/dementia and their caregivers reach a place of greater peace, sometimes after placing a loved one in memory care and sometimes by embracing other sources of support to keep their loved one at home longer.

We hope this post will help you recognize and honor your feelings, reflect on your current situation, and ultimately reach decisions that are right for you and your loved one. This post also contains links to resources you may find helpful.

Question #1: How can I be sure it’s the right time to place my loved one in residential care? Is it possible to wait too long to make this decision?

Just the act of asking questions like these and seeking out information are brave first steps towards deciding on a care plan that is optimal for you and your loved one.

Unfortunately, some families will get to the point where their loved one has a crisis and they need to make a move to residential care suddenly, directly from a hospital. This greatly reduces their options and creates stress. Our first suggestion to you is to be proactive, explore residential care options before you may need them, and tour the memory care centers you are considering. Many families feel pressure to keep their loved ones at home as long as possible. However, this is not always better for your loved one or for you. If you find a memory care center that can provide greater safety, personalized enrichment to keep your loved one engaged, and a caring, home-like setting, you and your loved one may feel better about this move than you did when considering an unknown.

We also recommend that you seek out an in-depth diagnosis of your loved one’s dementia. This can make a meaningful difference in knowing what to expect and providing the best supportive care. Your physician may have a recommendation and the communities we serve are fortunate to have The Memory Disorders Clinic at The Ohio State University Medical CenterThe Memory Assessment Center at Central Ohio Primary Physicians, the John J. Gerlach Center at OhioHealthUniversity Hospitals of Cleveland, and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health all of which offer comprehensive cognitive health assessments and treatment. 

Question #2: What are the signs that indicate it might be time for memory care?

Generally speaking, if you agree with any of the statements below, it could be time to consider residential memory care:

  • I am concerned about the safety of my loved one with dementia and for my own safety as their caregiver. If your loved one has walked out on their own and become lost, if they are occasionally combative beyond what you can handle, or if you lack the physical strength to help them shower or use the toilet safely, these are concerns you should not ignore.
  • My loved one with Alzheimer’s is frequently bored. If you are overwhelmed with handling everything around the house and if your loved one is increasingly unable to focus, it may become very difficult to keep them occupied and stimulated.
  • We barely leave the house. If you find you are having everything delivered, you avoid the visits of friends and loved ones, and you have begun to disengage from the outside world, these may be causes for concern.

Question #3: As a caregiver for someone with dementia, what are you doing to take care of yourself?

If you can’t remember the last afternoon you spent away from home or you have dropped all your hobbies and friendships to care for your loved one, these may be red flags that your current situation isn’t sustainable. These sacrifices, even though they are made out of love and loyalty, may eventually take a toll on your own physical and mental health. In our support group – a safe space for caregivers to share their tips, insights, fears, and frustrations – the raw emotions of burned-out caregivers sometimes come to the surface. We recall one person saying that they sometimes fantasize about walking out the front door and never coming back. It’s natural to experience momentary flare-ups of frustration or anger, but if you are beginning to feel this way more and more often, it may be time to consider your options.

Before exploring memory care, you might consider whether there is a local adult daycare option available or family support. We know one caregiver who finally realized she needed to take her family up on their repeated suggestion that she and her husband should move closer to them. Now that her children are nearby, other family members take caregiving shifts so that she can have time outside the home.

The Central Ohio Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and Cleveland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association maintains updated information on local resources like home care, adult day care, transportation, and more.

If you are interested in attending our support group, The Memory Loss Empowerment Group, our meetings are typically on Tuesday evenings at our Powell and Avon locations. Learn more about the group on our Community Support page and confirm the next meeting time near you on our Events page.

Question #4: Have you thought about your “line in the sand”?

It may be helpful to think about whether there is a point at which you will be ready to consider residential memory care. For many families, we find this is incontinence. Sometimes helping a family member of the opposite sex with showering or toileting is too uncomfortable for a son caring for a mom or a daughter caring for a dad. Your “line in the sand” could be anything, but it can be helpful to think about where it is, and prepare, before you hit that breaking point.

Question #5: Are my fears or a sense of guilt keeping me from making the best decision?

There are three emotions we see time and time again: sadness for what you and your loved one have lost and will lose; guilt that you may not be able to fulfill promises to keep someone at home; and fear that someone with Alzheimer’s won’t be able to stay in memory care if they have episodes of being verbally or physically combative. One area where we may be able to provide some comfort and relief is that it is very, very uncommon for a resident to be asked to leave memory care at The Ganzhorn Suites. Those behaviors are part of the disease, and our staff of Certified Dementia Professionals are trained to prevent and cope with them when they arise.

Question #6: Are there particular things I should be looking for in a memory care center?

There are many things to consider, like staff-to-patient ratio, staff credentials, safe access to an outdoor space and more. One other important consideration is the model of care. Instead of being grouped with residents whose disease has progressed much farther than their own, residents of The Ganzhorn Suites share common areas and an outdoor courtyard with individuals at a similar stage of memory impairment. This seems to make the transition easier for new residents and their loved ones, particularly individuals in earlier stages of the disease. We find that sometimes individuals at an earlier stage of the disease have an easier time transitioning to residential care because they are able to engage and socialize more readily. They can also benefit more from the ongoing, personalized enrichment we offer, something that is often very difficult to provide at home and which has been demonstrated to help individuals with Alzheimer’s/dementia hold on to memory and function longer.

Question #7: If I make this decision, what may lie ahead for my loved one and for me?

Moving into a memory care facility is an adjustment for every family member/loved one. For some, the period of adjustment is just a few days but for others, it can be several weeks. We find that once people see their loved one doing well, connecting with staff or other residents, and enjoying activities built around their interests, they are able to feel that they have made the right choice.

We do find that, in the short term, some caregivers struggle with a loss of purpose when they have been consumed by the drive to keep themselves and their loved ones going. Gradually though, many rediscover old joys or find new ones. One woman who was only seeing her grandkids once a year, now sees them once a month. One man who had given up fishing with his friends, can now occasionally get outdoors and enjoy this beloved hobby. At the Ganzhorn Suites, our visiting hours are 24/7, so they can still spend unlimited time with their loved ones too.

After the adjustment, one thing we hear often is what a relief it is to return to being a wife, husband, son, or daughter, instead of a caregiver. Resuming normal roles can be a relief to you and good for your loved one too.

If you would like to learn more about memory care at The Ganzhorn Suites, submit your information here and we will be in touch.