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There are many options available for senior living but one question we are most frequently asked is, “How does Memory Care differ from Assisted Living?”. When reviewing options for a Memory Care community for a loved one, the most important questions you ask should highlight the training of the staff, the design of the building, and the efforts made to best accommodate and enrich the lives of those who live there. True Memory Care communities have certain aspects that go above and beyond traditional Assisted Living communities to best cater to those with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Amenities: The amenities found at a memory care community may not be as glamorous as those found in an independent living or assisted living community, such as an ice cream parlor or indoor swimming pool, but that is by design rather than oversight. Because research has shown that seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia can become easily stressed and disoriented, communities are designed to create a relaxing setting.

Living Space: Communities typically have a secured courtyard that allows residents the opportunity to walk outside or garden without the risk of leaving the building or getting lost. Small gathering places, such as a TV lounge or library, are also common features. To create a more intimate setting for residents, a memory care community may even be designed around a neighborhood setting, with apartments clustered around shared common areas. Hallways are designed to assist individuals with way-finding.

Accommodations: “Apartments” are often private spaces. Most memory care neighborhoods are now providing private bedrooms to reduce anxiety of “a stranger” living in the person’s space. Amenities are minimal—again, in the effort to reduce stress. To assist in way finding, many communities will place a memory box filled with mementos from the resident’s life outside each apartment and hallways are designed with familiar “stop and look” décor to encourage memory stimulation.

Dining: Dining rooms typically feature family-style dining so residents can gather together for mealtimes. Some dining rooms feature a tropical fish tank, as studies have shown that watching fish can increase appetites, and attention is placed on creating a contrast between the food’s color and the plate so residents can better see the food.

Activities: Activities are specially designed around a resident’s past interests so residents may reconnect with their memories; art classes, music and games are usually offered, along with exercise classes and “walking clubs”. As research shows elders with dementia need sunshine and fresh air to reduce anxiety and improve cognition, Memory care communities need to provide regular outings. Activities are used as the catalyst to create connections. Sensory cues are a daily and constant necessity in developing appropriate life engaging activity.

Staff Education and Training: Specialized education for the staff is a must in order to provide a quiet home-like environment for people with dementia. Particular emphasis is needed in understanding behavior- how to find triggers causing catastrophic reactions and how to minimize overstimulation to provide a quiet living environment.

It is important to remember: A memory care neighborhood is an ENHANCED environment and should contain MORE staff and individual normalized, home type activity programming in comparison to a Traditional Assisted Living.

These general guidelines were put together by an active member of the Alzheimer’s Association.