“How will I know when it’s time for memory care?” Hands down, this is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear. Here’s how I help my private clients figure it out:

What are you hoping for? There’s no wrong answer here, and I ask this question because so many people think that having a parent living with dementia automatically means certain things, like all people living with dementia have behaviors [NOT TRUE], medications are the only way to manage behaviors [WRONGY-DONGY!], and that a move into memory care at a certain point is a necessity [STILL NOT TRUE].

Most families–after recovering from the shock of learning they have choices–tell me some version of “We’re hoping to care for her at home for as long as possible.” No matter your answer, once you figure out what you’re hoping for, then we can map out how to get from where you are now to where you want to be ultimately.

What are your deal-breakers? This defines the “as long as possible” part of the equation. Most families say something like “when things reach a certain point,” but it’s important to be crystal-clear on what, specifically, that “certain point” is. Managing incontinent care? Wandering? No longer able to transfer independently? Opening the door to strangers? Not able to be safely alone while you’re at work?

The answers are always unique to your specific situation, of course, but the main thing is to have an idea of what your deal-breaker is before it happens. Then, decide if you want to use in-home care or move to memory care. If you chose memory care, keep reading.

Write it all down.  Once you’ve identified your deal-breaker, write it down. Date it. List all the reasons that your particular deal-breaker won’t work for your family. It could be you work full-time outside the home; it could be your bad back; it could be lack of support; it could be financial resources; it could be any of a 100 things.

It may seem silly, but you’ll appreciate you did this when the time does come for placement and you’re struggling through second-guessing yourself, defending yourself, and beating yourself up. (Yep, all that happens, I’m sorry to say). This is when you’ll go back and look at your list and remember why you’re doing this, and remind yourself that you made a rational decision before you were thrust in the midst of a crisis.

What are the facts?  When we love someone, it can become amazingly easy to gloss over the facts with a Little Mary Sunshine spin. A positive attitude is always a good thing in life, but there’s a difference between attitude and objectivity.

If you find yourself repeatedly saying things like, “She was just having a bad day today” or “He doesn’t usually let strangers in the house” or “Well, that’s the only time that she’s melted a pot on the stove,” you’re making justifications and things can get out-of-control and/or dangerous very quickly. Do you know the signs that professional help is indicated? If not, get the checklist here.

BONUS Tip: Get with a placement consultant. This is, by far, one of the kindest things you will ever do for yourself when choosing memory care. Working with a placement consultant means you have a professional on your squad who can narrow down the choices–and there are seemingly bazillions–specific to care needs, personality fit, finances, location, you name it. A placement consultant will do all the heavy lifting for you, AND walk you through the whole process.

It’s never too early to start working with one; they understand that you don’t necessarily need them right now, and actually encourage families to contact them before there’s an immediate need. In Oregon, go to OSRAA.com for a list of qualified professionals* ready to help you. Best of all? Most placement consultants don’t charge you a fee.

*Unfortunately, I know of at least one person out and about in the community right now who is using a single personal experience as the basis for claiming “expert” status not only as a placement consultant, but also as a dementia professional. Visit OSRAA.com to avoid unwittingly hiring this individual.

Next week’s topic is Moving Your Parent Into Memory Care: Insider Tips from A Former Memory Care Director.” I’ll share with you what to expect, how and when to talk to your parent about it, how to avoid getting into an argument over it, and what to do if your parent has a meltdown.


Christy Turner is the founder of DementiaSherpa.com (CTC Dementia Care Management) and has enjoyed the privilege of working with over 1,045 people living with dementia and their families. Follow on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Periscope, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Content varies daily across platforms.