How to choose a memory care facility.
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
By someone who's got no clue as to what she's doing.
I actually began touring memory care facility in the spring of 2017. We had just gone through a terrible 3-week bout of anxiety that had The Other Girl and I ready to push Mom off the nearest cliff, or dump her on the porch of a not-too-close! fire department with a "Will you be my care giver?" tag attached to her lapel. It was pretty bad and we were about ready to call it quits when the newly prescribed buspirone started kicking in; Mom's suffocating air of tragedy was gradually replaced with typical amounts of tragedy, and The Other Girl and I found fresh resolve to continue our 24/7 care partner journey.
But that made me realize that someday we may no longer be able to do round-the-clock care, and I'd be wise to have a list of prescreened places in mind - as opposed to finding ourselves at the end of a frayed and unraveling dementia rope, desperately throwing her at any old place that would take her.
Being deeply suspicious of Joan Lunden and the like (for no real reason), I did not use a referral service to choose memory care options. Rather, I Googled places in the area and called on those that had appealing websites and good reviews on their FB pages, websites, and Google/Yelp pages. The initial contact consisted only of my top two criteria; if Mom's financial situation no longer allowed her to pay privately did they take Medicaid? And, did they offer end-of-life care? These were the biggies, I did not want to move her again, and yet again, as her health and financial situations changed. If the facility could not answer both questions in the affirmative I crossed them off my list and contacted the next one. If they were amenable to Medicaid and end-of-life care, I scheduled time to go poke my nose up in their business.
And I'm glad I did the preliminary scouting.
For one, I discovered all memory care facilities have free cookies in their lobby! Just sitting out! Totally unguarded! Always next to a cooler of refreshing water with cups and napkins, and they don't bat an eye even when you pocket 5 or 6 of 'em on your way out!
But my "Memory Care Facility Free Cookies Tour 2017!" didn't just result in more of me to love, it also meant that since The Other Girl and I have now made the decision to move Mom to memory care I had a ready list of my top three facilities for us to thoroughly vet and assess. I scheduled the tours, allotting 2 hours for each place, and prepped for Inquisition-style interrogations of memory care personnel.
I consulted a couple of sites for research and found these two super helpful when creating my list of queries: Questions to Ask When Exploring Memory Care Options, and Memory Care Checklist. And I went back and checked FB, Yelp/Google, to see if there were any more recent reviews of my three picks. Finally, armed with bad attitudes and one of Mom's Ridiculously Tall Grandsons, The Other Girl and I set out to crown a winner in the Which One of You's Good Enough for My Wacky Mother? Pageant.
Tours are usually conducted by the facilities executive director or marketing director. These folks are always professional and welcoming, you take the tour, and then have time to sit down and get all your questions answered in a conference room. All three of the places were clean and inviting to varying degrees, with lots of scheduled activities each day, and tasty looking menus. What really made the difference for us was talking to the staff and residents
We'd start with a simple question to a resident, like, "That lunch looks good. Is it yummy?" Then talk a while before asking if they liked it there, were people kind, were they happy? The residents were more than ready to chat, and gave us insight into their personalities to better judge if the community's vibe was a good fit for Mom.
I am pleased to say we got great reviews from residents at all three facilities we toured.
We also stopped and talked to staff members - housekeepers, care givers, med techs, just anybody who didn't seem so busy they couldn't spare a moment. We asked how long they had been there, how long had they been in the industry, did they enjoy the work? Now, while these are loaded questions, and someone would have to be pretty stupid to give negative answers while their boss was standing there listening, we still got a good sense if people were being genuine in their responses.
We took our time throughout the tours, observing activities, the staff's engagement, the residents level of contentment, or if anxious, the staff's response to their concerns. Then we would be ushered into a quiet room, and proceed to bombard our tour guide with questions. I had prepared a Google Sheet, with a column for each of the three facilities, making it easy to compare answers for our final decision.
In our case, we had a clear loser we could eliminate right away - the facility wasn't lacking, it just wasn't as good a fit for Mom as the other two. The remaining two facilities were very similar in their answers, all meeting our criteria on the business end of things, so it finally came down to the feel we got from talking to residents and staff. We chose Monterey Court because of the professionalism of the staff, combined with enthusiasm and cheer, and the pleasure and satisfaction of the residents when talking about their home. It felt like a home. It felt like a place where Mom's going to have face an overwhelming amount of anxiety and fear, but have caring neighbors and professionals, who, combined with her daughters, can give her the best chance possible to make the most of her life.
So, Monterey Court here we come! Man your battle stations 'cause Stumped Town Dementia's barreling straight for 'ya! Your best offense? Beef up your stockpile of cookies.
p.s. I'm kidding, Joan Lunden! I think you're swell.