Alzheimer’s Dementia, Health Wellness, Safety

Memory Care Checklist: How to Choose a Memory Care Community

The right memory care community can provide the caliber of dementia care and Alzheimer’s care needed to slow the progression of debilitating signs and increase the frequency of meaningful moments and rewarding experiences.

Finding and Selecting a Memory Care Community

Among the many challenges of coping with a diagnosis of age-related dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is accepting that your loved one won’t recover from this condition. Despite over-the-counter and prescription medications for memory loss, the fact is, the condition is progressive and will most likely become worse in time. These conditions cause a variety of symptoms with various levels of severity, meaning that multiple layers of care are needed to sustain an individual’s quality of life. But there’s good news. The right memory care community can provide the caliber of dementia care and Alzheimer’s care needed to slow the progression of debilitating signs and increase the frequency of meaningful moments and rewarding experiences. How can you be most helpful during this difficult time? Improve your skills at finding, evaluating and screening memory care facilities in your area. This blog post will help get you started.

The convergence of multiple challenges

Not every senior showing signs of memory loss needs memory care in a senior living community or memory care facility. Safety concerns with driving, cooking or managing medications are relatively easy to understand, and can potentially be alleviated through the efforts of family members. Problems handling personal finances are also to be expected. But a continual decline in cognitive abilities from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can trigger a cascade of deeper issues in the life of your loved one. Isolation, depression, behavioral issues, the potential for wandering, and eventual despair are often more than families can solve on their own.

It’s important to remember that although loved ones may lose some ability to read, comprehend or communicate effectively, their feelings of fear, frustration and disappointment are real. Likewise, their capacity to experience happiness remains intact. Whether they fully realize these feelings depends on their living environment and the support they receive. Cognitive impairments can actually be slowed or paused for periods of time, contingent on the right healthcare scenario, which is usually found in a memory care community.

Memory care goes beyond just assisted living

Today’s memory care facilities help residents maintain good quality of life even as their cognitive impairment worsens. They offer 24/7 care from staff members with specialized programming and training to handle many different needs. Basic services like meal prep, laundry and housekeeping are included at just about every memory care community, but the level of assistance with activities of daily living is increased compared to assisted living. Often, activities are designed specifically to help residents reconnect with favorite hobbies or interests.

Memory care communities typically employ design elements that help reduce stress. Circular layouts, more natural light, and memory boxes are most common. Memory care communities also provide extra staff supervision, security alarms on exterior doors, and frequent safety checks to keep residents from exiting the premises and getting lost. Amenities may appear more modest than those found in an independent living or assisted living, but that’s usually by design rather than oversight. Seniors with dementia can become easily stressed and disoriented, and so memory care neighborhoods are designed to create a relaxing setting.

Finding and selecting memory care services

When families can no longer meet the needs of a loved one with dementia at home, moving the person to a memory care community may be the best thing to do. It will give you greater peace of mind knowing your loved one is safe and receiving good care. You can start an online search at the National Institute of Health’s How to Choose a Nursing Home site followed by Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare site.  You can check the accreditation status of communities you’re interested in at The Joint Commission Quality Check® website.

Once you’ve found potential candidates in your area, you can cross-reference online reviews by people with firsthand experience of the community. Every bit of information you can obtain is helpful when making this decision, including community auditing and incident reports. Check with your county or state office to ensure there are no abuse or neglect reports at the places you’re considering.

Questions to ask

There’s no substitute for on-site visits for answers to questions that concern you personally.

While you’re touring a community, watch the staff at work. Are they caring, respectful and knowledgeable? Ask about their training and tenure at this memory care facility. Inquire about the staffing ratio at the community — both during the day and overnight. Will there be a specialized care plan created for your loved one? Ask for the names of doctors who visit the community and how often they’re on the property. These questions are recommended by the Alzheimer’s Association:

While you’re touring a community, watch the staff at work.

Family involvement

  • Are families encouraged to participate in care planning?
  • How are families informed of changes in the resident’s condition and care needs?
  • Are families encouraged to communicate with staff?


  • Is medical care provided?
  • How often are physicians and nurses or nurse practitioners on the premises?
  • Is there a registered nurse on-site at all times?  
  • Is personal care and assistance provided?
  • Is care personalized to meet specific needs, abilities and interests?
  • Are staff trained in dementia care? Is it required by the state? How long is the training, and what topics are covered?
  • On average, how long have workers been on staff?
  • How does staff handle challenging behaviors?
  • What is the ratio of residents to staff?

Programs and services  

  • Are appropriate services and programming (e.g., small groups, quiet rooms) available based on specific health and behavioral care needs?
  • Do planned activities take place? Ask to see an activity schedule.
  • Are activities available on the weekends or during evenings?
  • Are activities designed to meet specific needs, interests and abilities?
  • Is transportation available for medical appointments and shopping?
  • Are care planning sessions held regularly? Are they held at convenient times?
  • Which therapies (e.g., physical, occupational, speech, recreational) are offered?
  • Is there a dementia-specific (special care) unit?
  • Are religious services and celebrations available to residents?


  • Is personal care (e.g., bathing, grooming, toileting) done with respect and dignity?
  • Is there flexibility in personal care times based on an individual’s schedule?
  • Are residents comfortable, relaxed and involved in activities?
  • Are residents well groomed, clean and dressed appropriately?
  • What is the rate of falls?
  • Are residents with psychiatric illness as their primary diagnosis on the same unit as residents with dementia?


  • Is the facility free of unpleasant odors?
  • Do indoor spaces allow freedom of movement and promote independence?
  • Are indoor and outdoor areas safe and secure? Are they monitored?
  • Is the facility easy to navigate?
  • Is there a designated family visiting area or a private place to have visitors?
  • Are resident rooms clean and spacious?
  • Are residents allowed to bring familiar items?


  • Are there regular meal and snack times?
  • Is food appetizing? Ask to see the weekly menu and come for a meal.
  • Is there flexibility in mealtimes based on the individual’s personal schedule?
  • Is the dining environment pleasant and comfortable?
  • Are family and friends able to join at mealtime?
  • Does staff have a plan for monitoring adequate nutrition?
  • Is staff able to accommodate special dietary needs (e.g., low sodium, diabetic)?
  • Do staff provide appropriate assistance based on a person’s abilities?
  • Are there any environmental distractions during mealtime (e.g., noisy TV)?

Policies and procedures

  • Are family and friends allowed to participate in care?
  • Do the visiting hours work for the family?
  • Has the discharge policy been discussed? (Learn about any situation or condition that would lead to a discharge from the facility, such as a change in behavior or financial circumstances.)
  • Is continuing care available as a resident’s needs change?
  • Is there an “aging in place” policy where residents can remain in the community — even the same room — throughout the course of the disease?
  • Does the community provide an escort to the emergency room if a visit is required due to illness or accident?
  • Does the community provide end-of-life care? Is hospice care available if needed?

In addition to asking plenty of questions, it’s important to provide the community with as much information as possible about your loved one — whether they show aggression, tend to wander at night, and if they need help with bathing, using the restroom, eating or something else. The more information you provide, the easier it will be to determine which community is best for your loved one’s situation.

Horizons Memory Care at Oaks Senior Living

This article can help you detect and understand the early signs of dementia in your loved one. If you find you need help and guidance in the care of someone living with memory loss, we invite you to investigate memory care at an Oaks Senior Living community. Each of our communities offers a specialized memory care neighborhood called Horizons — a secured living space with an open, unrestrictive environment that gives residents freedom of movement and a sense of home. Horizons team members receive specialized training on how to help those living with memory impairments while offering compassionate care. 

Please don’t hesitate to contact us to arrange a personal tour of an Oaks Senior Living community near you.

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