Memory Care Programs

empty activities roomMemory care programs are usually found in adult day programs and in assisted living facilities and memory care units. Research results about best practices in designing and implementing memory care activities are everywhere. With at least 1 in 4 people facing a diagnosis of dementia the demand for quality programs has never been more pressing.

Why then have I had such a disappointing week as an Aging Life Care (TM)/geriatric care manager? Long story short, I have toured several communities with a client that can no longer provide the level of care at home that her 84 year old mom needs. My client is 58 years old. She has been the sole caregiver for her mom since 2002 when her father passed away. Her mom was diagnosed with dementia about 4 years ago. My client works full-time from home. She says this is a blessing because her employment situation has allowed her to keep her mom at home.

Her mom’s disease is worsening and recently she walked out the front door and down the street at midnight. Her daughter is thankful that she heard the front door open. Since that scary event my client is not sleeping well and her increased anxiety is causing health problems. She feels guilty because her work schedule leaves her mom to wander around the house and watch television. She knows her mom is bored even though she can no longer express how she is feeling.

My client is wrestling with the difficult decision to place her mom in an assisted living facility memory care unit. She wants her mom to be safe and to benefit from meaningful activities and social interactions. One tour after another, marketing directors have led us through their facilities. We looked at rooms, dining rooms, laundry rooms, activity rooms and living rooms. Activity bulletin boards have been pointed out. We visited secured courtyards and have been shown container and raised bed gardening for residents.

The pain point for me is this: we saw no activities in progress, not even one. We saw residents slumped in wheelchairs, wandering aimlessly, watching television, sleeping in their rooms. While the activities boards looked promising we saw no resident engagement. Music therapy, pet therapy, chair exercise: we know these programs work. They are meaningful to people living with dementia. They give residents a purpose to their days. Watering flowers, pulling weeds, planting bulbs are meaningful activities for people whose lifetime hobby was gardening. The raised bed gardens we saw were, for the most part, were dried up, overrun with weeds and needed some TLC.

The for profit assisted living industry needs to reach deeper into its pockets. Facility budgets must be increased to provide better pay, better training and better tools for activity directors and activity assistants.

Dementia, we need a hero. We need a champion in every facility, in every program every day to help give people meaning, purpose and joy in their lives.