In the ongoing struggle to adequately diagnose dementia and care for seniors suffering from the condition, this ray of hope emerged late last year: Dementia rates among those over 65 dropped 24 percent in the United States between 2000 and 2012. That said, millions of families still deal with loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Declining rates notwithstanding, the need for outstanding dementia care remains a priority in this country.
Outstanding assisted living is also a priority for today’s seniors, and the two goals appear as if they should run parallel to each other. Although dementia care does incorporate many principles of assisted living, the two are not the same. Yet both are incredibly important to seniors and their families.
The Importance of Quality Dementia Care
There was a time when dementia care barely differed from assisted living; most senior living community residents were cared for the same way. This did not benefit dementia residents because their needs are often dissimilar. More independent dementia sufferers might be treated as if they were in greater physical need than they actually were. Residents whose dementia was more advanced might have received a care plan indistinguishable to an assisted living resident. This one-size-fits-all approach ignored the fact that quality dementia care specifically benefits the dementia resident. The quality of life for people living with dementia unfortunately wasn’t as it good as it could have been.
What Sets Quality Dementia Care Apart from Standard Assisted Living
In the last couple decades, dementia care has evolved. Indeed, assisted living principles remain part of the equation—many residents still require help with activities of daily life (ADLs). What sets quality dementia care apart is a focus upon helping the resident be as successful as possible despite their condition. Previous philosophies focused on accommodating the disease. The current one focuses on improving engagement and care so that sufferers are living the fullest lives possible.
Features of Quality Dementia Care
So what exactly does quality dementia care entail? Besides all the necessary elements of good assisted living, the best communities offer the following features:
- Routine: Reams of research have shown that dementia sufferers generally do better when they follow an established routine every day. Alternately, patients tend to struggle more when their routine is disrupted. Quality dementia care emphasizes routine while working to minimize the disruptions that inevitably occur during the everyday lives of residents.
- Specialized caregivers: Dementia caregivers bring unique qualities to their work. Additional training is necessary because memory care strategies may differ from traditional assisted living. Moreover, dementia requires a special kind of person to administer care—patience, compassion, understanding and respect are essential qualities that help engage and empower residents.
- Security: Wandering is a major dementia concern. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 60 percent of dementia patients wander, and half of wanderers not found within 24 hours suffer serious injury or death. Memory care prioritizes security not only to prevent wandering, but also to keep patients as safe as possible within the community.
- Dementia-specific activities: Many activities enjoyed by all seniors offer additional benefits for dementia sufferers, whose long-term memories are often activated by participating. Looking through photo albums; playing, singing, and listening to music (particularly old favorites); going on supervised walks (after all, some dementia sufferers are still physically capable of getting out and about); jigsaw puzzles; arts and crafts (especially skills enjoyed before the onset of dementia); and gardening are just a few of the activities that have been shown to stimulate dementia care residents.
- A resident-centric community design: The physical design and characteristics of a memory care community can boost the experience and engagement of residents. Bright paint provides a stimulating environment, as does natural sunlight—plenty of windows and outdoor spaces. Practically, hallways can be color-coded to make it easier for residents to recognize where they want to go.
- Attention to meals: Many dementia residents do not require a special diet unless other health needs dictate it. The challenge for these seniors is that they might not have the appetites they once did. Foods no longer look or taste familiar, and a disrupted routine may inhibit residents from wanting to eat. Quality dementia care pays special attention to meal times so that residents get the proper nutrition to stay healthy.
- Personalization: No two memory care residents are alike, so neither should their care plans be. The best dementia care recognizes this and tailors care to each individual.
Families looking for quality dementia care for a loved one should keep these features in mind and ask plenty of questions when touring a senior living community.