Is it time for memory care for Mom?

By Jan Lehmann, Changing Season Home Health & Heavensent Caregivers

Mom has become very difficult lately. She lives in a wonderful assisted living residence that has a keypad code to permit entry and exit at the main door and all the other doors have alarms. Mom, who is 93 years old and has dementia, has had 24-hour caregivers for the past two years. But over the past couple of months her behavior has drastically changed and she may need more memory care.

She has been trying to escape (they call it elope) from where she lives. She had figured out if she stayed close to the main door she could get out when someone else was leaving. The caregivers stayed very close to her but she would fight them if they tried to keep her away from the door. She had become more argumentative and sometimes she hit or kicked them.

Several times over the last month she had gotten out of the facility with her caregiver close behind her. One time she got about two blocks away, sat down on the grass and refused to get up. No one wanted to pull on her or try to lift her up because she had become combative and stubborn as she is frail and something might break. Several people tried to convince her to get up. Finally, a friend who knew her told her that she was going to get chiggers sitting in the grass and that convinced her to get up on her own.

One time she wouldn’t come in from the front porch where she was enjoying a rocking chair. Another time she walked almost a mile, with the caregiver right beside her, even though it was over 100 degrees out. Refusing to walk on pavement because she wanted to be in the grass, she lost her balance and got bruised when the caregiver caught her. The facility director had to pick her up in the car in order to get her to return to her residence.

Then about a week ago, after Mom had gone to sleep, the caregiver went to the laundry room to put in a load of clothes. Mom awakened, got out of her room, and was found wandering around inside the building lost and confused. They got her back to her room and back to bed. But later that same night when the caregiver checked on Mom, her bed was empty and so was her room. Her bed alarm had not worked. At 2 am the search for her began. Two hours later they found her sleeping in another person’s apartment on the couch. Reports had to be made to corporate and other agencies.

A change was needed. After consulting with the director and nurse at the assisted living facility, it was decided that Mom should be placed in their Memory Unit—decorated in soft colors it is secure, quiet, with planned activities, and its own dining room. It is not uncommon for people with severe dementia or Alzheimer’s disease to become stressed trying to blend into normal daily activities and the Memory Unit removes those stresses for the individual, permitting them to relax.

Moving Mom was carefully planned. Her bed and personal items were moved to the Memory Unit while her caregiver took her to lunch and then occupied her while the rest of her things were being relocated. The new room was arranged and her pictures hung to appear as nearly like her previous room as possible. Then someone went to get Mom, telling her that she wanted to take her to see a beautiful room. From the moment Mom walked into her new room, she loved how it looked. She mentioned that she had some of those same pictures. And then she found the window that overlooked a rose garden. She was very pleased. The caregiver remained with her for two nights and then left Mom, who had not been alone for over two years, to adjust. It is now a day-to-day adventure.

I was deeply concerned how Mom would respond to the change. But with the safety of your parent in mind, I hope this article can help others with this difficult decision. I feel secure with Mom’s care now and grow more at ease myself each day.