How is memory care given in a home designed for senior living? (I live in Kirkland)

What is ‘Memory Care’?

Many of us have had the experience of loving someone who was (or is now) having trouble remembering things. Almost everyone, as they age, will struggle to remember basic things like the name of that actor, or where they placed their car keys, but for some seniors, it goes beyond that, and they move into a territory that takes a special type of care.

Different types of memories

Some types of memory can remain fully intact, while other types of memory deteriorate. One of my elderly uncles can remember the month in which each of hundreds of famous actors died, but yet, he struggled to remember the names of his nieces and nephews. It wasn’t because he was a celebrity junkie, or watched too much TV, or even that he was somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but rather, different types of memory are stored in different ways. For him, remembering that Humphrey Bogart dies in January of 1957 had special meaning. Bogart played a role in my uncle’s early formative years, you could say, and served as a type of material milestone for that reason. His passing was a significant event, and so, it was committed to memory because of that significance. On the other hand, whether a given nephew was called “Jason” or “James” was immaterial. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his nieces of nephews any less, but that his mind didn’t have the same significance attached to their names.

Memories, therefore, can be of very different types. And each person remembers things differently.

Loving someone with memory loss

In my family, people tend to die suddenly. You get a phone call that Aunt Susan had a heart attack, and a few hours later you get another call to say she has passed away. They’re a certain blessing in that, you could say, but it can deprive loved ones of a way to say goodbye.

On the other hand, dementia can make a passing more painful as loved ones watch their parent slipping away excruciatingly slowly. Sometimes, a parent might not even remember their own children. That’s hard when you want to remember your parent as the capable, all-powerful caregiver they were since you were born until recently.

When your loved one moves into an Adult Family Home, you want to know that your loved one’s memory challenges are respected and, if not fully understood, worked with in a caring, loving way. This is why the staff that work at the Adult Family Home you select are probably the most important factor to be considered. Usually, though, if the staff is well selected, so too is the food and everything else at the Adult Family Home.

Let’s look at the considerations for Memory Care:

The Staff

Be sure to talk directly with the people who will be looking after your loved one every day. Are they caring, communicative, loving, and do they have the qualifications?

The other residents

An Adult Family Home that can take good care of your loved one usually has others in their residence of a similar condition. If you can, try to meet other residents in each home you are considering. Are they in the general age group? If your mother is 89, and the existing residents are all in their sixties, the fit might not be a good. On the other hand, if one or two of the other residents suffer from significant memory loss, the staff – as well as the fellow residents – will be easier to get along with.

Activities

As the demographics of the United States – and the whole Western World – shift towards greater life expectancies, the challenges of memory loss are increasing. More is understood now too about the role of mental activities that people engage in, and its impact on delaying the onset of dementia and memory loss in later life. For that reason, keeping one’s mind challenged throughout life decreases the chances that memory loss or impairment will occur later. And even if some memory loss has occurred, further deterioration can be significantly delayed with the right type of mental and physical stimuli. That’s why the activities at the Adult Family Home you choose will be of particular importance. They don’t have to become a chess grand master, but even bingo will have its benefits. If you parent and would-be resident frequently does the crossword, make sure they can continue to enjoy that, and the mental acuity it gives.

Noise levels

One thing I discovered during the raising of my three kids was the value of a good night’s sleep. When my kids were 3, 5 and 7, I remember adopting a fairly rigid sleep-based schedule. Unless one of you is ‘bleeding from the head’, I told them, everyone is in bed by 7:30pm. At 8, all lights go out for the two younger ones, and my older daughter could have her light on until 8:30. I didn’t really have any choice in giving them the “Captain von Trapp” model of organization (remember the strict single father-of-seven from the musical The Sound of Music?) My spouse was away in Europe for nine weeks, and I had a full time job, so I had to get on top of the job. What I discovered was, if my kids had a good night’s sleep, they were far easier to manage during the day. Everything was easier, and they were much happier, too. I discovered then that we humans do much better all round on a good night’s sleep than without one. With respect to raising children, sleep was the number one priority.

I don't think it’s a whole lot different for older folks. Everything works better the day after a good night’s sleep. And memory is just one of those things that work much better.

So, when you are considering an Adult Family Home in particular, try to get a sense of the sound levels , both from inside the home and street and/or neighbors. What room with your loved one be sleeping in? Is it sufficiently detached from the rest of the house and/or other residents’ rooms to allow your mother to get enough sleep every night? A good night of totally undisturbed sleep will make all the difference to how their memory care is to be managed.

Check back next week!