Like most adult children, you probably want your parents to live their later years at home – that option might come off the table, however, if your Mom or Dad struggles with dementia.
Thankfully, there’s a great alternative for seniors who can no longer cope on their own because of cognitive impairment. Assisted Living Memory Care communities can actually improve the quality of life for people with dementia, helping them to function at the highest possible level for the longest possible time. Here’s a brief rundown on this senior living option.
Staff is Specially Trained
Employees at Memory Care communities are specifically trained to care for persons with impaired cognition or dementia. For instance, nursing staff know how to recognize signs of pain in residents, a crucial skill since people with advanced dementia cannot clearly communicate their distress. Memory care staff not only know what triggers agitation or anxiety in an Alzheimer’s sufferer, they are trained to effectively respond to and defuse stressful situations before they turn into crises.
Most importantly, you will find Memory Care staff to be compassionate and respectful to residents at all times. They are trained in techniques such as validation therapy, in which staff accept a resident’s values and beliefs without confrontation or contradiction so as to avoid causing unnecessary stress.
Building Design is Carefully Planned
You may not realize it, but much care goes into the design of a Memory Care residence. Because safety is first and foremost, these buildings have features that help prevent residents from wandering outside without making them feel like they’re in a prison. In some cases, residents have access to the outside through enclosed courtyards, while others screen parking areas from residents’ views, which may help reduce their desire to wander. The buildings are also easy to navigate and color-coded hallways are often used.
In some communities, residents display photos or mementos outside their room in “memory boxes,” which help them remember their room number. Lighting may also be used as a cue to help residents know the time of day; for instance, bright lights may be used in the daytime and low lights at night. These buildings also typically have large windows so that residents are exposed to more natural light, which may reduce the symptoms of dementia. Some communities even provide controlled multisensory rooms designed with soothing colors, relaxing sounds, and comfortable chairs.
Food is Thoughtfully Prepared
Getting adequate nutrition can be a significant challenge for people with dementia as they often experience decreased taste and smell or have issues with eating, such as difficulty swallowing or chewing. In an effort to encourage residents to eat, Memory Care staff pay special attention to food preparation. Some places may use ground ingredients in the meals, which make chewing and swallowing easier, or they prepare food in bite-size offerings, eliminating the need to use forks or spoons, which some dementia patients cannot use.
In addition, food may be placed on colorful dishes to make meals more attractive as well as to make it easy for residents to distinguish foodstuff from the plates. Programs that put emphasis on solving eating issues, such as our Dining with Dignity® program, show improved nutrition and decreased weight loss in dementia patients who have access to them.
Activities Enrich Residents’ Lives
Memory Care communities typically schedule a wide range of activities -- everything from music therapy to puzzles and trivia games to exercise programs -- some of which are designed to help residents with their memory or to reduce stress. Small group activities are usually more common as large groups can provoke anxiety in people with dementia.
Schedules Are Consistent
People with Alzheimer's disease need a consistent schedule, as changes in routine can trigger anxiety or confusion. Memory care communities provide a general daily structure for residents; they strive to keep such activities as waking up, mealtimes, bathing, dressing and bedtime as regular as possible in order to reduce stress and disorientation.
In addition to general state-level licensing of care communities, memory care is further regulated in 23 states by special care unit disclosure laws making it mandatory for memory care providers to disclose the special services they offer. Of course, this means that 27 states do not have disclosure laws, making it vital for you to carefully research each memory care community you look at before making a decision.
Are you concerned that your parent or other elderly loved one may be experiencing or at risk for age-related cognitive decline? Click below to download our free guide, Home for the Holidays, and get useful conversation tips and suggestions to help you evaluate their health and safety this season.