The Rise of the Memory Care Unit

coupleIs it still safe for you and your loved one, who has dementia symptoms, to live at home?  Are you feeling increasingly isolated and unsafe, but feel there is no place you can turn except the dreaded worst option, the nursing home?  There may be a different solution:  the assisted living memory care unit.

Not too long ago, assisted living communities were mostly just for elders who wanted to take life a little easier, to delegate the meal preparation, the cleaning and the laundry to someone else, and to spend their time having fun with friends in a community environment.  This lifestyle had a cost, of course, usually ranging from $3,000-$5,000 per month, and this cost often deterred people of limited means who were afraid of running out of money before they died.  People knew, too, that assisted living was not an option for people with serious dementia issues, since there were no special programs for these folks, and there was no security to assure that they did not wander off.  Then came the rise of the memory care unit.

The memory care unit is typically a floor or a wing of an assisted living facility, with its own dedicated staff and often its own dining area and outdoor recreation areas.  The staff has been specially trained to understand dementia and how to interact with those who have it.  We all understand that there is no known cure for dementia, nor is there any known way to stop or reverse the progression of memory loss and related cognitive dysfunction.  There is expanding recognition, though, that trained staff can help people suffering from cognitive losses continue to live happy and meaningful lives.

What is more, once those who are suffering from dementia need regular assistance with the so-called activities of daily living or ADL’s (dressing, eating, bathing, toileting, moving around), there are planning tools available to them to help defray the cost of living in the memory care unit.  Among other things:

  • Veterans who served during a period of war, their spouses and their widows, may be eligible for the Aid and Attendance benefit, which could pay from $1,000 (in the case of a spouse or widow) to $2,000 (in the case of a veteran) to help defray the cost of living in a memory care unit
  • In addition, the cost of the memory care unit may be tax deductible as a medical expense. This could be an especially powerful deduction if the payments are being made from an IRA or other retirement asset

Last month, I did presentations at the senior centers in Marlborough, Hudson, Nantucket, Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard, and several other communities to discuss these options.  Among the presenters was Gary Davis, who oversees the memory care units called the Tapestry program at Whitney Place, an assisted living community in central Massachusetts.  On my cable TV program, Bergeron Briefs, I also interviewed Eric Kessler, who runs one of the innovative memory care programs, called Hearthstone, located in Marlborough.  If you want to learn more about memory care units, you may want to watch some of these programs on my youtube channel, http://www.youtube.com/elderlawfrankandmary.  Even better, find a memory care community near where you live and go visit.  Decide first whether you want to be there, and then talk to your financial advisor and elder law attorney about whether you can afford it.Duck

About Arthur Bergeron

Art has been practicing law in Massachusetts for over 30 years. He focuses his practice on elder law, estate planning, probate and trust administration, and land use matters. Art counsels senior citizens and their loved ones regarding elder law and special needs planning, asset protection and Medicaid planning. He works with individuals in all areas of estate planning, including wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney, health care proxies and living wills.
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