Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and dementia has many challenges, but one of the most difficult can be determining when it’s time to move to a memory care facility. There are lots of emotional issues that come into play on the part of the caregiver — denial about the person’s condition, the belief that caregiving can’t be that hard, and good old-fashioned guilt that you should be the one caring for your loved one, not a stranger. Here, we take the emotion out of it and break down the five big signs that a loved one needs in-patient memory care.
We can all be forgetful at times— and this only increases as we age. However, when important dates, names, how to get to familiar places, and remembering when to pay bills are routinely forgotten, that is not normal. These are some of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and should be taken seriously with an appointment with a physician.
While the move to memory care may still be viewed in the distance, this is the time to start having the conversation with, researching, and touring facilities in your area. Having a list of options in your back pocket will be very helpful when it does come time to make the move.
A good tidbit to know: studies have shown that it’s best to transition loved ones from home into memory care before more serious symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s develop. Making an earlier transition gives your loved one a chance to have a say in their future. Also, since they still do have some function, they are able to feel more comfortable and start forming relationships with residents and staff that won’t be possible as the disease progresses.
This one takes some introspection. Make no bones about the fact that caring for someone suffering from cognitive memory loss can be a full-time job. And without daily breaks through respite care, this situation is impossible to sustain. Even if you are able to have in-home care, there are many stages during the latter part of memory loss that require an advanced level of medical care that cannot be achieved at home.
And if you’re in the sandwich generation — caring for young children and aging parents — you compound the difficulty of at-home care. It’s also important to assess your marriage and analyze the excess strain that caring for your loved one may cause.
DECLINE IN OVERALL HEALTH.
As memory loss takes hold, the ability to do day-to-day things, like drive a car, make grocery lists, prepare meals, take medications — or even remember to eat — begins to be affected. Losing track of days also affects circadian rhythm, which can lead to insomnia that quickly affects health and mental well-being.
Physical signs to look for:
- Rapid weight loss
- Lack of food in the fridge or cabinets
- Evidence of medication not taken (or overtaken)
- Neglected personal hygiene
- Hunched or sunken posture
- Inexplicable bruises, breaks and/or injuries
- Unpaid bills and missed appointments
The inability to remember how to get home — or where one is going — should be a major red flag. This leaves the individual at risk for injury, getting seriously lost (think “Silver Alerts”), or becoming victim to scams or violent crimes. I have handled cases where ne’er do well family members used incredibly inventive ways to steal almost everything from a relative, all the while pretending to be the “caregiver.” In those cases, immediate action is required, but could be forestalled by getting professional help early. Additionally, those with major cognitive decline have a great likelihood of being injured at home, and if unattended, can forget how to seek help, either via a “life alert” button on by calling 911.
If you find yourself worrying about a loved on a regular basis, it’s time to listen to your gut and seek out memory care. Not only will it bring you peace of mind, but you can also ensure your family member will be well cared for and supported 24/7.
INCREASED SOCIAL ISOLATION.
When someone is suffering from dementia, their social life often diminishes quickly. The sufferer begins to find social situations too stressful, embarrassing and difficult to endure and they often begin to self-isolate. This can exacerbate and even accelerate their condition.
Memory care facilities offer varied daily activities, supervised excursions and creative outlets for residents to interact. This can lead to a rich and vibrant social life for residents, which improves the quality of their life immensely.
LISTEN TO YOUR INSTINCTS.
Deep down, you likely know when it’s time. You’ve had too many of those moments when the chills run up your back and you just know things are wrong. If these thoughts are entering your mind, it’s for a good reason. Resistance to difficult tasks is often a “North Star” guiding you toward what you need to accomplish immediately. Honor your feelings and seek out a consultation with a memory care center. Take solace in the fact that memory care centers have come a long way in recent years — something we will explore here in depth at a later date — and that placing your loved one in a residential facility is not neglect, but a great act of kindness and love.