Assisted Living vs. Memory Care: Understanding the Difference
As you or your loved one prepares for the future, it’s important to understand long-term care options. Veterans often face unique physical and mental health challenges, and, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, recent studies show that veterans diagnosed with PTSD have double the risk of developing dementia than other veterans. Exploring the range of services available – especially as they related to memory care – can help make the years to come more enjoyable, healthier, and safer.
It’s a good idea to start your research and conversations early, even if you or your loved one is in good health. You don’t want to wait until an emergency or unexpected change in health rushes you to make important decisions about care. Instead, use opportunities to delicately discuss your loved one’s preferences for long-term care. Decide if he or she prefers a shared living community with peers, or would like to “age in place” at home. Ensure that you are aware of financial standings, locations of important documents, and – ideally – a complete list of medications or medical treatments your loved one requires. All of these points play into choosing the best care choices.
Once you have a general idea of how your loved one would like to envision his or her future, begin your research. It’s important to understand the various facility care options and the terminology entailed. Some facilities do offer a spectrum of services in one location with varying degrees of medical care available. For example, a community may offer a wing of private apartments for independent seniors, as well as a nurse-staffed rehab or hospital wing for temporary stays, and also semi-private rooms with 24-hour care.
An important delineation to understand is the difference between assisted living and memory care. It is possible that a senior may begin needing one level of care and then later move to the other, which is why it’s important to explore what a potential care facility offers.
Assisted living is typically categorized as a housing option for seniors needing some assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) but not needing the skilled medical care of a nursing home. ADLs can include getting dressed, caring for hygiene, moving around, and taking daily medication. Staff are usually on-hand 24-hours a day, though residents often have private apartments and even a limited kitchen. There is typically a shared dining hall with three meals served a day, as well as organized social activities and available transportation to local destinations.
Some (but not all) assisted living facilities offer an Alzheimer’s unit or wing, also known as “memory care.” Seniors diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease have special needs and considerations, and specific changes to the environment and schedule can improve quality of life. For example, a memory care unit may offer a very structured daily routine to help residents reduce stress levels. Extra security is often in place to ensure that residents do not inadvertently wander off, although many facilities offer secure outdoor areas so that residents can still enjoy fresh air. Increased monitoring by a skilled staff helps ensure that dementia patients feel secure and maintain their health. As the affects of dementia increase over time, it’s important to work with staff members who can help a resident maintain proper nutrition, feel safe, and enjoy activities that might spark memories or improve mood.
Doing your research ahead of time and taking a careful look at what various communities offer will help ensure your loved one has the least amount of disruption and stress in his or her life when the time comes to find help for long-term care. Veterans especially deserve care and respect in their golden years, and finding a good fit in housing will help ensure that is what they receive.
Written by Megan Hammons