Signs It May Be Time for Memory Care for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Last Updated: May 17, 2023


 Does this sound relatable to your family? Dad loves his house and would never want to leave but his Alzheimer’s has gotten so bad that he is not safe here anymore. We’ve installed safety devices, established routines, and our whole family has teamed up to keep him healthy, but it is not enough. Sometimes he refuses to leave his chair, other times he refuses to stay in bed. The stress is affecting all of us. We want to be a family again, not nurses and unruly patients. Does this mean it is time to get Dad professional help and into a memory care facility?


How to Know When It’s Time to Move to Memory Care

It is difficult to know when your loved one needs to change their living situation. Alzheimer’s takes years to transition from early to mid and late stages, making deciding between feelings and logic complicated. Add the guilt and emotion that can come with putting a loved one in memory care and the decision becomes even more difficult.

 Did You Know? People with dementia and their family members can receive free assistance in finding memory care communities that meet their needs and budget. Start here


1. When you can’t keep them safe at home

A decline in health for a dementia patient can signal trouble and that they are progressing through the stages of the disease and need professional help. Signs to look for are:

– Unexplained weight loss

– Hunched posture

– Bruises

– Difficulty standing

– Ability to continue to walk independently without assistance

– Sitting for too long

– Wandering

– Becoming lost

An active and well-trained memory care community can support both ends of the behavioral spectrum. The physical layout and scheduled activities can calm active patients, prevent wandering (or allow for structured wandering), and establish a routine. Inactive individuals can be encouraged by witnessing others being active and benefit from social interaction. Staff are trained to motivate dementia patients to interact with others, participate, move around, and even go outside. All of these interactions stimulate cognitive function and if your loved one is not receiving these benefits at home they can decline faster.


2. When completing activities of daily living becomes impossible

There are activities that need to be done in order to live independently. They are divided into two categories. Activities of daily living are basic tasks like going to the bathroom, bathing, getting dressed, doing light housework, and doing meal prep. There are also instrumental activities of daily living that include paying household bills (managing money), going to the grocery store, ability to talk on the phone or make a phone call, managing medication, and arranging transportation to doctor’s appointments. When you notice that these become hard for your loved one to do, even with the help of a caregiver, it is time to look into a memory care community. Medical professionals have specialized training in helping with activities of daily living so that the care needs of your loved one can best be supported improving their quality of life.


3. When caregiver stress becomes overwhelming
Taking care of someone with dementia is difficult, especially when it is in addition to one’s everyday life. The tasks can be endless. Stress is inevitable, especially as the disease’s symptoms worsen including loss of communication and erratic behavior. Even if you think you are hiding your stress from your loved one, your loved one can perceive it which can lead to difficult behaviors including acting out. If caregiving has become so stressful that it is affecting your happiness and how you interact with your loved one, it can be time to think about memory care.


4. When you or your family can’t sustain a healthy living environment
If one parent has dementia, maybe your other parent is the primary caregiver. Family members can feel pressured to keep their loved one at home, thinking they can handle the task. One major problem that people do not think about is the emotional, physical, or financial burnout that can occur. No one is immune to caregiver fatigue. Watch for signs like bills being unpaid, hoarding, keeping spoiled food, and general messiness (like dishes piling up in the sink, or trash not going out). Also, take into account the personal hygiene of the individual with dementia. Much of the tasks like assisting with bathing, brushing teeth, and clipping nails fall on the caregiver and a caregiver having difficulty coping will start letting these things slip. These are signs that another living situation is necessary.


 Caution! Studies have found persons with dementia are more susceptible to scammers, especially over the phone. Learn more.  


5. When social life shrinks to isolation

Someone with dementia will become less social as their world becomes more confusing. The mental impacts of Alzheimer’s cause a person to retreat inwards and living at home is not always a situation conducive for socializing. As the disease progresses, more confusion, less stimulation, and inward retreat can turn into a self-reinforcing circle.

Interacting with people is important because studies have shown that social isolation worsens symptoms of dementia. Memory care units encourage social interaction through dementia-appropriate activities in shared living communities that support and care for the emotional and physical needs of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.


6. When the primary caregiver may not be a good caregiver
This can be a serious problem for families. A loving and caring husband or wife may not be equipped to be a good caregiver to a loved one with dementia. Caregiving for dementia is like caregiving for a young child, it can be frustrating and tedious. One significant difference is the child will grow past their challenging behavior while someone with dementia’s behavior will likely become more challenging. It is usually the adult child who recognizes their mom or dad is unable to provide the care their spouse requires, and it can be a challenge to have the conversation with their parents and siblings. It can be hard to not avoid or deny this difficult situation and in the vast majority of these cases, memory care is a better option.


7. Your gut knows something’s wrong
It can be a difficult and emotional time to decide when it is time to move your loved one out of their home. It is emotionally charging because they have probably been living there for years or even decades. We can all tell when something is wrong, and that nagging intuition that something is amiss should not be ignored. If you feel like it’s time, listen to your instincts. There is no blame or fault in making tough life changes. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias become more manageable with an improved quality of life when families can transition their loved ones into memory care at the right time.


8. Aggressive behavior
There is no part of the process of Alzheimer’s or dementia that is easy, but it is especially concerning when in the middle to later stages, the personality and behavior of your loved one can change making them become aggressive. When you are concerned about your own safety or that of those around you, making the move into a memory care community can help. That is because trained medical professionals are able to help and support your loved one, in the hopes of diminishing this dangerous behavior.


Why It is Beneficial to Start a Memory Care Search Early

Finding the right memory care residence for your loved one is not a fast process. Finding and touring memory care residences finalizing legal documents and overseeing the moving process can take an average of at least 2 months. For most families, 3 to 4 months is probably a more normal time. Financial assistance, like qualifying for Medicaid coverage or getting VA pension benefits, will take even longer. Even with professional financial planning assistance, a realistic timeline is that it can take 6 months to arrange payment.

 If you are considering memory care at an unknown point in the future, then it is time to start investigating the process now.

It is advantageous to be prepared when the time comes for a loved one to move into a memory care facility. The need for memory care can be a sudden or gradual change. The behavior of a person can accelerate the need for memory care. However, unexpected changes to a primary caregiver can be just as disruptive to a person with dementia. Since many caregivers are spouses, and elderly themselves, they often push themselves beyond their limits, and caregiver injuries can occur.

Another benefit of starting the process of finding a memory care community early is letting your loved one have a say in the decision. Deciding the later stages of dementia when your loved one can not communicate well because of the progression of their symptoms, will only exacerbate guilt and emotions that often come with this life change.

During this emotionally tough time, it is advised to err on the side of caution. That means that it is better to move your loved one into a memory care facility early. The sooner the preparation begins, the more likely this can be a positive transition. Any change is hard for a person with dementia, especially when it comes to their caretakers and daily routine. By making the move early, instead of waiting until the last second, your loved one will have a more cognitive function. That means that they will not be as easily confused or upset about a change in their settings. Hopefully making an early move into a memory care facility will benefit your loved one by letting them voice their wishes and transition into them before daily life gets complicated and understanding what is happening in the world around them causes irritation, frustration, fear, and anxiety.


Differences Between Memory Care and Nursing Homes & Assisted Living

Memory care is not the same as assisted living or a nursing home. The difference between memory care and assisted living is that memory care is specifically for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Patients need a higher level of skilled care and supervision. These communities can also be called special care units or Alzheimer’s care units. Memory care communities usually offer shared and private living spaces. Sometimes memory care units exist as a wing within assisted living communities or nursing homes. They can also be stand-alone residences that solely focus on the needs of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

When compared to memory care facilities, nursing homes are more expensive, more restrictive to the individual, and provide a higher level of medical care. Nursing home candidates are typically accessed and found to require a nursing home level of care, which is a formal term for the level of care they need. Most people with Alzheimer’s disease do not require a nursing home level of care in the early or middle stages of the disease.

Memory care has more frequent safety checks than assisted living creating an environment where patients are monitored 24 hours per day. Staff is trained to meet the needs of residents who have difficulty completing basic tasks because of dementia symptoms. Memory care units offer similar services as assisted living but with increased supervision and structure, including activities to stimulate memory and slow the disease’s progression. These activities might involve music or pet therapy, games, and arts and crafts.

Memory care residences are also constructed differently. They have enhanced security to prevent dangerous behaviors like wandering. The hallways often run circularly because patients with dementia can become upset when they encounter a dead end. There are no individual kitchens in memory care, which cuts down on stress and prevents accidents. The colors, lighting, and even accouterments like fish tanks create an atmosphere that is calming and soothing for people with dementia.

Memory care typically costs more than assisted living. On average, memory care communities cost $1,000 more per month because of their specialized care. In comparison, memory care costs significantly less than a nursing home. This can be a difference of up to several thousand dollars per month.