If you are a loved one or caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you may face a difficult decision about when to place your loved one in an assisted living or memory care facility. A decision like this can be emotionally and practically hard, but the most important thing is keeping your loved one (and you, as the caregiver!) safe.
Important signs to watch for
Because Alzheimer’s gets worse over time, it can get more challenging to care for your loved one as time passes. You may find yourself physically or emotionally tired out or even frustrated and resentful. These are all signs that it might be time to think about assisted living.
Here are other important signs to watch for:
People with dementia can show signs of physical or sexual aggression. This can be stressful or overwhelming to you as a caregiver, and it can be more than you can handle. It may even lead you to feel anxious and resentful.1
People with Alzheimer’s are prone to getting disoriented and wandering away from home, even in the small amount of time it takes you to get to the bathroom.1 When they find themselves in areas that seem unfamiliar (even if they are home), they can become stressed and agitated.
Assisted living facilities that are designed especially for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia are often built with circular floor plans, so residents can wander safely. They are less likely to get stressed when they do not find barriers, like hallways that come to an end.2
It is common for people with Alzheimer’s to become very upset toward the end of the day, a phenomenon known as sundowning. This can be very hard for caregivers and can disrupt family activities and routines. If the toll becomes too much for you and your family, you might consider assisted living.1
Home safety concerns
If your loved one lives alone, think about whether they are safe in their own home. Are they able to care for themselves? Notice spoiled food in the refrigerator, signs of damage in the kitchen, broken appliances, clutter, piles of unopened bills, or trash.
Uncleaned spills can be a sign your loved one does not have the ability to plan and follow through on cleaning. Clutter and objects on the floor are dangerous, because they may cause your loved one to trip and fall.3
Unmanageable care needs
Alzheimer’s disease gets worse over time. Your loved one might need simple notes and reminders in the beginning. But as time goes on, they may not be able to care for themselves or to manage the essential activities of daily life.4 These include eating, bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting, and moving around.
Is your loved one forgetting to eat and becoming skinny and frail? Do they remember to take their medications? Assisted living facilities are designed to help people with daily life, so they stay safe and experience less distress and confusion.2
It takes a major toll when you care for someone with extreme physical needs who can also be anxious, unpredictable, aggressive, and disorganized. Caregivers suffer from burnout, anxiety, hypervigilance (where they feel like they have to be on alert 24/7) and frequent negative thoughts.1
Being a caregiver can be exhausting and stressful. It can also take a toll on your ability to eat, sleep, socialize, and take care of your own needs. When it becomes too much for you to care for your loved one, an assisted living facility might be a relief for both of you.
Information about assisted living
Assisted living facilities are not meant to provide medical care to people who live there. They are designed to help people with the day-to-day activities of life. These include activities like eating, dressing, taking medications, and managing your personal grooming. Assisted living also helps people meet their social needs by providing organized activities and communal dining and meeting areas. Most centers provide round-the-clock supervision and security.3
Services offered at assisted living facilities
Assisted living licenses vary by state and facilities often go by different names. Even so, most assisted living offers:
three meals a day plus snacks
health and exercise programs
a variety of organized activities and events
Many places also have:2,3
common areas for socializing.
Memory care at assisted living facilities
Some assisted living centers also have specialized services or memory care units to help people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Memory care units offer the same services and amenities as assisted living, but with increased supervision and security as well as activities designed to stimulate memory. These include games, art, crafts, music, and movement.2,3
Stevenson, S. How to Recognize Signs It’s Time for Assisted Living. A Place for Mom. Available at: https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/2013-3-11-signs-its-time-for-assisted-living/. Accessed 10/17/19.
Residential Care for Dementia: Assisted Living, Memory Care, Nursing Homes & Other Options. Dementia Care Central. https://www.dementiacarecentral.com/memory-care-vs-assisted-living/#assisted-living. Accessed 10/17/19.