As the VP of Operations and Lifestyle at Dial Communities, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with family members who are struggling with what to do with aging parents who have memory impairment. Through our work as a Hearthstone Institute I’m Still Here® Center of Excellence, I’ve learned three critical components to making this difficult decision.
Stay focused on what’s important.
At Dial Communities, we’ve paid attention to a lot of little details. Our residences are well-appointed. Our gardens are beautiful. Our amenities are top-notch, and our team members are the compassionate cream of the crop.
When it comes to choosing a memory care facility for your loved one, however, I don’t want you to pay attention to any of those pretty bells and whistles—at least not at first. The main thing I want you to focus on is the people. Are the residents happy? Is the staff engaged? Are people interacting with you as you roam the halls of their homes? How many smiles do you see?
Trust your instincts here, as they’ll tell you more than any brochure will. The facilities may look nice, but do they feel like home?
Accept that it won’t be easy.
There’s no sugar-coating this part. Moving a parent from a family home or completely changing their lifestyle will be difficult, both for you and for them. They may get angry, upset, or sad. You may feel grief, conflict, and worry. All of this is normal. Stay as positive as you can, and dig into the resources that the community has available to you. Ask questions, and be prepared to answer twice as many more. At Dial, we smooth the transition by brushing up on everything about our newest residents—we like to know what they do for fun, what foods they like to eat, their favorite times of day, and who they like to keep in touch with. The faster we can create familiarity, the easier the transition will be. For everyone.
In my experience, especially after working with The Hearthstone Institute and learning the profound ways their methods are changing memory care, I’m heartbreakingly confident of one thing: people wait too long to make the call. I often have conversations with sons and daughters who tell me their parent “just isn’t ready,” and I get it. But if you could see what’s possible when memory-impaired residents are engaged, supported, and routinely empowered in their daily lives, you’d see that it isn’t about what’s lost. It’s about what’s possible.
We may not be able to reverse or stop dementia from taking hold, but we can improve the quality of a resident’s life and the relationships that matter most. The longer I do this, the more I realize that this work is just as much about preserving their memories as it is creating new ones with them in it.
As you move through this process, remember, this isn’t a life-ending decision. It’s a life-changing one. And, with the right approach, it has the potential to change both of your lives for the better.