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Navigating An Elderly Loved One’s Transition to A Memory Care Unit

As our parents and older loved ones age, some may face the challenging reality of memory-related conditions, such as dementia. The unfortunate reality is that conditions that cause memory loss in the elderly, like Alzheimer’s Disease, are progressive with symptoms extending toward cognitive function, decision-making, and changes in character. Despite a caregiver’s best efforts, time sacrifices, and intentions, in some cases, transitioning to a memory care unit can become a crucial decision to ensure the safety and well-being of seniors. Working with elderly folks and their families, we have firsthand experience with the scale of life-changing decisions that must be made when it’s no longer viable for a senior who wishes to age in place to continue to do so. With this blog post, we aim to provide a guide for caregivers – adult children, relatives, spouses, and friends – on various aspects of the transition process.


First and foremost, what IS a memory care unit?


Memory care units operate as specialized residential facilities within assisted living communities or standalone facilities. These units are designed to address the unique needs of individuals with memory-related conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Unlike traditional assisted living, memory care units offer a secure environment with controlled access to prevent wandering – a common concern for seniors with cognitive impairments. Trained staff members provide 24/7 supervision and support, focusing on maintaining a structured routine and offering activities tailored to stimulate cognitive function. Additionally, these units often feature memory-friendly designs, including color-coded hallways and familiar cues, contributing to a more comfortable and secure living environment. The goal of memory care units is to enhance the quality of life for residents by providing specialized care, promoting engagement, and fostering a sense of community among individuals facing similar challenges.


… But it can be difficult to determine when a senior must move into a memory care unit, especially for a family member or a close friend. There can be a lot of guilt around the decision making it hard to consider all the factors objectively.


How do we know when it’s time?


Determining the right time to move a senior to a memory care unit is a nuanced decision. Signs that may indicate the need for transition include increased confusion, wandering, difficulty managing daily tasks, and safety concerns. Recognizing the optimal time to transition a senior to a memory care unit involves careful observation and consideration of various signs. Cognitive decline often manifests in forgetfulness, difficulty completing familiar tasks, and challenges with communication. Caregivers should be attentive to changes in behavior, such as increased confusion, agitation, or aggression, as well as wandering tendencies that pose safety risks. Frequent falls, neglect of personal hygiene, and struggles with medication management are additional indicators that the level of care required may exceed what can be provided at home. Social withdrawal or difficulty recognizing familiar faces may suggest the need for a more supportive and structured environment. Regular assessments by healthcare professionals, including geriatricians, neurologists, or dementia specialists, can provide valuable insights into the progression of cognitive decline and guide caregivers in making informed decisions about the appropriate timing for transitioning to a memory care unit. Engaging in open communication with the senior's healthcare team and seeking input from support groups or geriatric care managers can offer additional perspectives to ensure the well-being of both the senior and the caregiver.


It's important to keep in mind that, even with neurological and medical assessments, this decision will look different for every family. While some caregivers are lucky to be able to dedicate more of their time to providing care, or split up round-the-clock at home care among several people, some caregivers do not have the same availability due to work schedules, kids, health problems, etc.


Of course, there are other factors to consider as well.


For example, what if the senior refuses to move to a memory care unit even though it’s unsafe for them to continue to live at home?


Resistance to moving to a memory care unit is not uncommon. Seniors may fear the unknown, feel a loss of independence, or be emotionally attached to their current living situation. At times, there can be a level of denial around their needed care. In other cases, they can equate loved ones’ suggestions to consider moving into a live-in facility with being told they are too burdensome. It’s also important to keep in mind that, in general, seniors are hyper-aware of the unfortunate reality of abuse and neglect that take place in some assisted living facilities. The point is, we absolutely cannot start out with the assumption that the senior’s reasons for refusing the move are invalid or unjustified. Patience, open communication, and involving the senior in the decision-making process can help ease the transition. We highly recommend consulting with a geriatric care manager and having their support through this process for a few key reasons:


1.     They can provide a more holistic assessment of the senior’s wishes and needs and point the family to the right resources in determining whether the senior is mentally capable of making the decision for themselves.

2.     They can expertly facilitate a mediated, open conversation about all available options in order to reach a resolution all parties are comfortable with.

3.     They can guide the family through the option of modifying a senior’s current home and employing more at-home help for the time being if possible.

4.     They can educate the family and senior on how a memory care unit works and what to expect.

5.     They can help find a trusted live-in facility using their available network so you can skip the trial and error.

6.     They can advocate for the senior’s best interests and ensure their wishes are met and they receive the best quality of care possible.


Another thing to consider is the financial aspect.


The cost of memory care varies based on location, amenities, and level of care provided. Unfortunately, Medicare typically does not cover long-term residential care. However, some long-term care insurance policies may cover a portion of the expenses. Exploring financial options, such as Medicaid, Veterans Administration benefits, or personal savings, is essential to plan for the associated costs.


Memory care units, like all live-in facilities, can be quite costly. For this reason, once more, we recommend using the guidance of a trusted geriatric care manager to avoid the extra costs associated with choosing the wrong one and having to go through several moves. Selecting the appropriate memory care unit involves thorough research. Consider factors like staff training, safety measures, activities tailored to cognitive abilities, and the overall environment.


Something to keep in mind following the senior’s move to a memory care unit:


The transition to a memory care unit is not the end of the caregiver's role but a shift in responsibilities. Regular visits, communication with the staff, and engagement in the resident's care plan are crucial. Maintaining a strong support network with fellow caregivers can also provide emotional support during this challenging period. To guarantee quality treatment, caregivers should actively participate in the care planning process, communicate regularly with the facility staff, and stay informed about their loved one's well-being. Advocacy for the senior's needs is key, and a geriatric care manager can assist in coordinating and overseeing the care provided.


Transitioning a senior to a memory care unit is a complex and emotional journey, but with careful planning, communication, and support, caregivers can ensure the well-being of their loved ones. Consulting with healthcare professionals and utilizing the services of a geriatric care manager can provide invaluable assistance throughout this process, making the transition smoother and improving the quality of life for seniors with memory-related conditions.


If you would like to speak to our team about senior care planning, fill out the form at and a care management expert will call you at NO COST to discuss how we can help you. We offer virtual and in-person services and our level of involvement is tailored to each client’s needs and wishes.


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