Aging Well

Lessons Learned After Moving Mom into Memory Care

Sometimes the best advice comes from people with lived experience. In this post, two sisters provide lessons learned while caring for their mother, who lives in a memory care community.

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Laurie O'Brien and Tally Gordon
Laurie O'Brien
Tally Gordon

One doesn't learn something until one has to. Here is what we have learned over the last three years while caring for a parent with declining memory.

  1. It is a good idea to have all bills sent to you. Tell mom that everything is on autopay.
  2. So Mom knows that the “mail” still works, send her cards every now and then. We put a card holder/bulletin board in her room so they can be displayed.
  3. Display photos with names so she can talk about people without having to remember who is who.
  4. Because clothing in facilities can get mixed up, use iron-on labels.
  5. Provide clothing that is easy to put on and take off. Tops with patterns are good for hiding food stains. Slip-on shoes with Velcro are a good idea. ( carries a brand of shoes called Silver Steps.)
  6. If the facility doesn’t provide, order adult bibs to reduce clothing changes on Amazon.
  7. Ask the care staff to keep you informed of what she needs (adult protective underwear, clothing items, favorite snacks).
  8. If incontinence supplies are needed, ask if they have a subscription service that can be direct billed. If not, sign up for auto delivery with Amazon.
  9. We did purchase a Sleep Number x-long twin bed that raises and lowers head and knees. A waterproof mattress cover is a must. A hospital bed is easier for staff, but uncomfortable.
  10. Have as many services come to her as possible, including:
  11. Hair and nail care either on-site or do they have someone that comes in.
  12. Physical or occupational therapy.
  13. Podiatrist for foot care – we have one that visits quarterly.
  14. Mobile dentistry – who knew there was such a thing and they are great.
  15. Hearing aids – Audiologist who makes site visits, can also train the staff.
  16. In terms of staff, little gestures of appreciation go a long way. For birthdays, I get a large cake for staff and residents to share; for holidays, candy or a tray of Danishes.
  17. Does she have a favorite food? Many facilities will have a place to store them.
  18. Bring a favorite meal as a treat to eat one-on-one. Ask if you can eat a meal with your family member along with the  other residents to get a sense of how it goes.
  19. Refrain from sending cash or jewelry. This bypasses any discomfort should it go missing—either due to staff or a parent misplacing or hiding it.
  20. Check her credit history regularly to ensure there is no identity theft.
  1. Find out facility rules for calling EMS. To avoid unnecessary and traumatic trips to the hospital, I provided a waiver indicating that if Mom fell with no sign of injury or pain, they did not call EMS. If there was a question, they would call me before EMS.
  2. Post critical documents, such as a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) or MOST (Medical Orders for Specific Treatment), as well as a current medication list and the contact information of the adult children, in the event EMS is called. Facilities are required to provide this information anytime EMS is called, but we have peace of mind that it is readily available if time is of the essence.
  3. If your parent does go to the hospital with some frequency, then it is useful to enlist the help of a medical transport service that can handle dementia patients.
  4. Establish a good relationship with a primary care physician/PA that can do on-site visits. This is a less traumatic way to deal with a UTI (urinary tract infection) than going to the hospital.
  5. Physical Therapy –usually a facility has a relationship with a provider. You do not have to use them if you don’t like them. There are a growing number of providers who are mobile.
  6. An eldercare consultant or healthcare advocate can help you navigate complex and/or critical decisions.
  7. Dementia Alliance of NC provides a support line, online support groups, educational videos and other resources for anyone in the state of North Carolina.
  8. Our final secret weapon is Lynda, a “companion” who comes in several days a week to keep our mother entertained and out of trouble. This also enables us to find out what goes on day-to-day behind the scenes. We pay her an hourly rate, which has been well worth it.

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