How to evaluate memory care facilities for a loved one

The decision to relocate a family member to a memory care facility can be a wrenching one that marks yet another often-challenging transition in this loved one’s care.

However, locating a well-run memory care facility can make this tough time all the easier, suggested Olivia Thomas, education program coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

For example, finding a memory care facility that includes family members in the life of the resident, educates family members on the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia and consistently communicates, can make all the difference.

“It’s very important for family members to receive updates and photos and you should always be welcome to visit, dine with and engage with your family member,” said Thomas, who oversees the Foundation’s “Excellence in Care” program that certifies memory care settings across the United States.

Ultimately, the biggest red flag to watch for when selecting a memory care program is the inability of a staffer to describe what makes their program unique, according to Brian Geyser, vice president of health and wellness at Maplewood Senior Living, which has 17 locations across five states and Washington, D.C.

“If they can’t articulate what that is, run away,” he said.

A space that enables residents to wander about and choose things they want to do is key as well and this is something you should observe during your tour.

“You should see residents doing meaningfully engaging activities on their own,” Geyser said. “That could be sitting on a couch and listening to music or walking into a theater-type setting to watch a movie from the past.”

Here, experts share six more things to think about when touring a memory care facility:

1. Focus on staff education.

When you first tour a space, it’s easy to be wowed by the credentials of the director and staff. But continuing education and ongoing training is just as important.

“We look at the exact training programs the locations use,” Thomas said. “During your tour, always ask exactly what sorts of training the staff is given and make sure that they’re getting ongoing dementia-specific training.”

2. Check for safety and security measures.

Since 60 percent of people living with Alzheimer’s will wander or elope at least once, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, it’s critical for the facility to have a well-thought-out safety plan, emergency preparedness plan and an established and practiced elopement plan geared to individuals who are exit seeking, Thomas said.

“That’s why you should look for secured doors and see if the facility uses pin pads to get in and out of memory care areas,” she said. Next, ask what happens if exit-seeking behavior occurs. “It’s imperative to find out how long it takes for a staffer to notice if someone is missing and how long it will take to notify administrative staff, family members and the local police department.”

3. Ask about health and wellness programs.

Even though your relative now needs to live in a memory care facility, staying healthy is still imperative. As you tour a facility, look for signage describing on-site walking programs, a walking club, chair yoga, games and, even, dolls participants can hold, as well as dining options that offer a variety of nutritious options.

“Make sure there is a doctor or nurse practitioner on site to address medical needs that may arise,” Thomas said.

4. Find out how therapeutic relationships are fostered.

Never hesitate to ask how much turnover exists within the staff itself, and feel free to ask exactly how the team builds relationships with residents.

“Spend some time in common areas and watch as staff sit with residents, get to know them and make sure their needs are met,” said Thomas. “Stay for an activity and make sure the staffers speak to them, encourage them to do activities and get to know their likes and dislikes, cultural backgrounds and their life stories.”

5. Make sure the facility is truly dementia-friendly.

Pay close attention to the ways in which the space has been curated to individuals with dementia. This includes a carpet that doesn’t have too busy of a pattern (this can overwhelm or overstimulate a person with dementia).

In addition, see if the doors are camouflaged or painted as a bookshelf so it doesn’t look like a door and deters exit-seeking.

“Pay attention to the details and make sure the lighting is adequate but not inconsistent—you want to see warm lights without harsh white lights intermingled as this can be very confusing for people with dementia,” Geyser said. “Ask if they have a multi-sensory space where residents can hear soothing music, smell the aromas from an aromatherapy infuser and watch a beautiful light show on the ceiling.”

6. Look into ways the facility fosters meaningful living.

Finally, look at the programming that’s scheduled for residents and make sure it includes participating in community activities.

“You want the facility to offer fulfilling activities so that residents aren’t just sitting there watching TV,” Thomas said. “This can include folding laundry, going to the mailbox to get the mail—anything that helps them feel useful.”

Thomas also noted it’s important to make sure the facility can facilitate a personalized diet for those patients who require one.

Overall, remember when you hunt for a memory care facility that you’re investing in it to become home for someone you love.

This person matters to you—and so should the place that they are now spending their days.

“Your family member still has interests, likes and dislikes,” Thomas said. “That’s why it’s so important to make sure they’re catered to and cared for in the best way possible.”

This article has been factchecked. For more about that process, click here.