Will dementia prevent my father from living in an Adult Family Home in Shoreline?

Dementia covers quite a range of conditions, of course, and every person considering living in an Adult Family Home is unique, but there are commonalities that can be addressed easily.

Firstly, any Adult Family Home worth its salt will support residents who have some degree of dementia. That’s one of the central values of living in an Adult Family Home. It should be physically safe and secure, but it must also have caring, trained staff who know and are patient with residents who have dementia.

Memory care

Memory care is a common term used when describing people who, quite simply put, have trouble remembering things. As we age, most of us lose the ability to recall a lot of what happens in the short term. That is, for example, why your father might remember what month Clark Gable starred in Gone With the Wind, but cannot recall what he had for breakfast. For my own sake – I am middle aged now, but far from ‘senior’ – and I might walk into a room and forget what I came into the room for – then walk out again. Mind you, I was always like that, but I expect in my later years my short term memory will be the first to go!

Forgetting what you had for breakfast is one thing – it’s just not that important, probably – but forgetting the names of your children is quite another. Forgetting major elements of your life – like your children’s names – can be very unsettling for anyone. Adult children will probably understand and be sympathetic to it, even though it might make them feel sad or hurt, but it’s mostly tough on the person who has the memory care issue. I’ve heard in the past, a senior who had such bad memory for these important familial matters, they preferred not to see their children or grandchildren, so upsetting and embarrassing was the encounter!

Choose an Adult Family Home that supports memory care

An Adult Family Home is not a hotel where a resident is expected to ‘haul their own luggage’, as one hotel manager put it. In an Adult Family Home, you can expect the staff to go way beyond the kind of support a senior would expect in the actual home of their own adult children. Here are some of the expectations:

  • - On-staff medical support: An Adult Family Home is not legally obliged to have full or even part-time medical staff, but some of them do. At the very least, basic CPR and related skills are very desirable. Enough to keep someone alive in an emergency while ambulance services arrive.
  • - Demonstrable emergency procedures: What happens if someone faints, has a heart attack, or gets a piece of food stuck in their throat? Staff in an Adult Family Home might change over time, but a good AFH will have procedures of many eventualities printed and displayed for all to see, and the staff – new of tenured – will be familiar with them.
  • - Emergency supplies: The Pacific Northwest is on a fault line for a major earthquake, but severe storms are probably the greatest risk. What happens if roads become impassable for even a few days? Is there enough food, and the means to prepare it, in each Adult Family Home residence? And what are the staff expected to do in the event of such an emergency? Some employees, absent any agreed upon procedure, may high-tail it home as soon as an emergency surfaces. Ask about that when considering an Adult Family Home, because you personally may not be able to come to the rescue either.

All of this, in the context of dementia / memory care

Schools, public buildings, offices, homes, all have their challenges in the event of the extraordinary. Hospitals, nursing homes and Adult Family Homes, however, present unique challenges simply because individuals are not expected to be independent in the same way as would be expected in, for example, a high school. Emergencies may involve injuries, but in an Adult Family Home, dementia is added to the complexity of the situation. That’s why dementia must be one of the considerations in any Adult Family Home you are considering.

Every dementia case is unique

One of the advantages of Adult Family Homes in Washington State is that state law limits the number of residents in any one home to six. That might mean three couples, each couple having their own room, but the total number cannot exceed six. What that means is, it’s much easier for the AFH staff to really know, and personally understand, the challenges of each individual resident. And considering each dementia case is unique, no one plan of action is going to fit all residents, so fewer residents is always better when it comes to hosting residents with dementia. The staff needs to understand and care for each resident in a unique way. That’s far more difficult in an nursing home or in a retirement center, where potentially hundreds of residents might have to be cared for under one roof.

People are living longer – dementia is a growing issue

As ‘babyboomers’ move into retirement in huge numbers, they are also living longer than their own parents did, on average at least. The longer people live, the more likely, statistically speaking, they will experience some form of dementia in their later years. Between the available new drugs, disease eradication, and for other reasons, you can expect to see dementia being an ever-growing issue.


My own mother is 83. She is as sharp as ever on crossword puzzles, and even when she is on the phone with me, she’s multi-tasking with a game of scrabble during the conversation. Some people are just like that (even though my mother is physically much slower than she was even a few years ago). My father, on the other hand, had an interesting mental situation. His focus seemed to be about twenty seconds behind the conversation. Still sharp at crosswords, he was, however, challenging to talk with sometimes because he was “about one sentence behind”. When you asked him a question, he might answer the one you asked before that one. It was actually fun, in some ways, and he was perfectly happy and comfortable, but it was definitely a condition that developed as he aged. And it took all of us time to understand his condition enough so we could communicate effectively with him.

With residents of Adult Family Homes, it can take time to get to know a new resident. With just six residents per home, that’s far more likely to happen. As a result, residents’ comfort and safety is assured, especially if you have the right staff to step up to the challenge.

In summary…

Yes, dementia care, and/or memory care are features of an Adult Family Home that cannot be ignored. Ask about the staff at the home, and more particularly, ask about the home's employment requirements. What kind of qualifications must new staff have? That will tell you a lot about whether the AFH you’re looking at is really up to the task!

As always, be sure to check back next week. I’ll talk about timing of any move to an Adult Family Home, and what you need to do to make it a success.