What to look for in memory care housing

Come into staff interviews with a carefully selected list of questions.

living room

Few processes are more stressful than deciding on the best place to move a loved one when it’s determined that a move to memory care is the best option.

Keep in mind that when this decision needs to be made, it’s often critically important, not only for the well-being of the person with dementia, but also to maintain the health of that person’s care partners.

If you’re in the process of making this potentially agonizing decision, here are some questions to ask yourself, and others, as you tour and consider various possibilities:

The environment

  • Is the atmosphere cozy and homelike with comfortable temperatures and pleasant smells?
  • Are there items of interest on the wall to attract attention and engage the residents?
  • Is the TV on, with no one really engaged?
  • Is there soothing music playing or a scheduled activity going on?
  • Do you see residents out and about, chatting together?
  • Do you see staff interacting warmly with residents?
  • Do residents seem calm and content overall?

The staff

  • Are staff warm and friendly toward visitors?
  • How much training does the front-line staff get upon hire (and yearly) on different dementia topics?
  • Are staff trained in dementia care solely on a computer or do they also get in-person instruction?
  • How much training does the front-line staff get upon hire (and yearly) on different dementia topics?
  • Do staff seem to take their time around residents or are they rushing?
  • If you have the opportunity, away from residents, ask a staff member, “What do you like about working with people with dementia?”
  • Ask how staff are trained to deal with challenging situations, such as a resident pounding on the door and wanting to leave? (Encouraging answers might include “We’re trained to validate the need behind whatever the resident is feeling, to comfort, to reassure and to redirect the resident to something we know is meaningful or pleasurable for him or her,” or “When possible, we take someone who wants to leave this part of the building for a short walk in another part of the building or (weather permitting) even outside.”
  • What is the ratio of staff to residents? Is memory care currently full now? How many memory care residents will there be when it’s full? (Does this sound like too big of a crowd for your loved one to manage?)
  • Observe the relationship between front-line staff and memory care residents very closely. (The quality of life of your loved one will be dependent on the quality of the relationships she or he has with the staff who interact with them the most.)
  • Ask how consistent the staffing patterns are. Will your loved one have the same person helping them for a certain number of days in a row? (Consistent staffing patterns are a very good sign, as are caregivers who have worked at the site or in memory care for many years.)

Activities and engagement

  • Is there an activity staff person specifically assigned to the memory care community?
  • Are activities ever scheduled after supper? How about on the weekend? If you get an activities schedule, look to see if the weekend schedule is as full as the weekday schedule.
  • Ask to observe an activity. Note the level of engagement of the participants. Is the activity being done for the residents, or is there interaction and participation because the activity is being done with the residents?
  • How often do staff engage residents during the down time they have on their shifts?
  • How much is music a regular part of the life of the community?
  • Do assisted living residents and memory care residents ever interact?
  • Are there any service projects being done?
  • How would my loved one be made to feel useful in this community?

Family support

  • Is there a care partner support group that meets on site or nearby?
  • How often are educational presentations offered to family members about dementia or related issues?
  • How often will I be invited to attend a care conference concerning my loved one?
  • Has this site had experience with different types of dementia (such as Lewy body, frontotemporal or vascular)? (Even if your loved one has an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the most common type of dementia, it’s good to know if the site has experience working with different types of dementia.)

And more!

This is by no mean a complete list of what you’ll want to ask, but it’s a start.

If you’re trying to differentiate between two similar communities, you might ask something like: “What are you most excited about currently in terms of what’s going in in your memory care community?”

Finally, think about your loved one, their personality, their habits, their interests and accomplishments — and ask specific questions to determine how all of that might be catered to at whatever sites you’re considering.

Good luck in your search!

Marysue Moses is the Dimensions Coordinator for Ebenezer, Minnesota’s largest senior living operator and part of the Fairview Health System. Dimensions is Ebenezer’s seven-component person-centered dementia care program.