Let me add that I'm already looking in to nursing homes and ALF. I never realized there was such a difference. I've been determined to keep her with me, but it really is encouraging to read about expeirences at ALFs. I realize that we might have to live apart some day and I have always dreaded placing her into a nursing home. I'm so glad to know that ALFs are viable alternatives and that she might actually find a bit of happiness in one should the need arise.
I would like to clarify that AL is for assisted living and a locked unit or a home for dementia is in another group. A good home for dementia is locked but the residents don't know the lock pad is for the lock. (Some new residents may try to get out but they couldn't unless someone else opens the door by accident.) A dementia unit such as this has the staff who understand dementia and know how to deal with them. They know how to feed the residents in late stage and etc. There are activities that are meant for demented people. An AL is for independent people or the seniors who need some help but basically are on their own (say, someone with heart condition only.)
What your Mom will need is the dementia unit/memory unit. It is locked but it is like a home so the person is not aware of it. My late FIL's NH was a private home for demented people only and it is like a big house in a big yard. It is like hospital rooms inside but each room is like your own room with your decoration.
Some people go to AL first and then transfer to the memory unit when the memory gets worse. My late FIL went directly from his own home to the dementia home in late moderate stage of Alzheimer's.
It all depends on Mom's level when you feel it is time to do something different. There are AL's that specialize in dementia care. Many can function very well in the AL setting which is typically larger and less structured. There are wonder guard programs which warn staff when they attempt to leave the building. The residents do need to be able to do some things for themselves for AL even if it is with cuing. The locked units are basically to prevent wandering. Mom and Dad were in a dementia specialized AL facility to start with. It was only after they were identified as an elopement (wandering) risk that they went to the locked unit. That is why you need to research what is available and determine (at the time of placement) which is best for Mom. If you want to keep Mom at home, put in place some additional help which may range from in home care givers, day care, temporary respite placement, or other creative breaks for you. This is more for you than Mom though it is helpful to get her accustom to others being in her life before the end
Actually my late FIL's NH had 2 wings: one is almost like AL and the other one is for skilled care/severe stage. But they both have nurse station. This is a special place for demented people.
I think either AL or NH, your Mom will need a dementia unit/locked unit. But the time has not come yet. My late FIL never really got lost (only went to the neighbors.) I think the lock for him was prevention but he never really had the issue of wandering since there were always caregiver next to him in later years.
You're all educating me, and I've badly needed it. I'm learning, but I have so much more to learn. Thank you for all your help. You're making the impossible seem possible - and it really, really matters.