Senior communities offer help and care for dementia.
The ceaseless, senseless noise. Clattering, like a beat-up car maybe dragging a string of cans behind it. The ceiling and walls are dark and growing closer. It’s hard to walk: pins and needles driving into my feet. My sense of touch is obtuse, muffled, as if my fingers are sloshing about in thick rubber mittens.
Someone in front of me is giving orders, but her voice is unintelligible. She seems to be speaking a foreign language. My own words won’t come. I’ve forgotten where I was heading, what I was looking for, what I was doing.
That someone in front of me is a doctor. She is telling—I think it is my children—I have late-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. I have dementia, she says.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
The narrative unfolds over and over again. First told in concerned whispers, as worries about behavior circulate; later, in growing anger and frustration; then, occasionally, perhaps not often enough, to health professionals, who struggle to find a solution.
Alzheimer’s is one cause of dementia. First described in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, 40 years ago it was identified as the most common form of dementia. It generally affects people 70 and older; its full onset can be delayed with early detection. In recent years, there have been advances in understanding and even treating Alzheimer’s, but, as of today, there’s no cure.
Other diseases are associated with dementia. There’s vascular dementia, fronto-temporal dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and others. But Alzheimer’s is far and away the most common, responsible for 60 to 80 percent of the cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
We’re all getting older and most of us do not sink into dementia. Some forgetfulness is normal as we age, and we may need some help with what were once manageable chores. The good news is that we can take action to prevent or forestall dementia. (See sidebar.)
But some of us sink deeper. Sometimes, we sink too deep.
Senior Communities Offer Safety and Comfort
In the absence of having a cure to offer, I asked several professional caregivers in County Lines Country about their strategies and facilities for managing their memory care residents. Most focused on safety, comfort, activity and independence for their residents.
Lodge Lane Assisted Living & Memory Care, for example, maintains studio apartments for those with Alzheimer’s and other related dementias, and provides memory stimulation in a safe, homelike environment with comfortable recreational spaces. It encourages residents and their families to decorate the apartments with favorite treasures from home. Lodge Lane’s residents are welcome to explore within its secure courtyard, and it provides stimulating programs to keep them engaged. A nurse is on-site 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Senior Communities Offer More Extensive Strategies
On the other hand, several communities have more extensive strategies. One approach is to provide two separate units: one unit for less advanced, and the other unit for more advanced stages of illness.
For example, Pleasant View Retirement Community has two options for people living with mild to more severe cognitive challenges. One option offers private rooms, and staff encourages as much independence as possible. For more severe cases, Pleasant View has private and semi-private suites. Its specialists in memory support provide skilled care for residents experiencing more difficulties with tasks of daily living.
In both units, residents participate in a wide variety of activities, including the “IN2L” (It’s Never 2 Late) system which uses interactive games, music, puzzles, and internet access as tools for reaching treatment goals. Specialized programs stimulate mental and physical activity and increase social interaction. Pleasant View provides a safe outdoor space with gardens and screened-in porches.
Similarly Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community has two units and two different levels of care. It provides Personal Care in its Memory Support unit and Skilled Nursing care in its Dementia unit, which is more secure. In a calm, cozy, homelike environment, with sunny family rooms and garden terraces, it provides an atmosphere of warmth, caring and dignity. Individualized and group support is encouraged. Residents can engage in stimulating, enriching activities and spiritual nurturing.
Willow Valley Communities also has two levels of care—Personal Care and Skilled Nursing Care—as does Dunwoody Vilage Retirement Community. At Dunwoody, the Memory Care unit, a secured area in the facility, goes from the Personal Care level to the Skilled Nursing level. Its staff is specially trained to handle the memory residents, for whom the staff conducts special activities and maintains special outside areas.
Several communities have created special programs for handling Alzheimer’s and dementia. Exton Senior Living, for example, offers a Montessori-based method. Their resident expert, Kara Abdala, notes that people with dementia “are often confronted with what they no longer can do.” Exton Senior Living focuses “on what each individual person can still do,” and on keeping its residents “as independent as possible for as long as possible.” The central theme is to “feel valued, secure and involved in the world around them.”
Daylesford Crossing has a dedicated memory care wing called Connections, built around a philosophy of care developed by Teepa Snow, a well-known dementia care expert. DC calls its program the “Positive Approach to Care.” “Rather than getting hung up on daily tasks, the focus is on building relationships and maximizing quality of life,” says Donna Ferruzzi. The goal is to carry out the Positive Approach in every aspect of life in Connection “from the staff’s relationships with residents to the activity programming to the design of the furnishings.”
Caring for Dementia at Home
For another approach, some families decide that their loved one’s home may provide the best, most comfortable environment for caring.
Ed Rofi of Angel Companions says the home is “full of memories of a lifetime that can fuel familiarity, contentment and relaxation.” Family and friends can visit regularly. Caregivers can provide one-on-one, continuous personal attention and companionship, which allows them to observe their loved one’s actions and behavior. This information can be reported to the Care Manager who can then modify the care plan accordingly.
Whether at home or in a community, Alzheimer’s should be treated as a disease. We should be alert to its symptoms in others and ourselves, and take appropriate preventive action if detected. Your loved one deserves it.
- Most common form of dementia
- 5.4 million have Alzheimer’s in the U.S.
By 2050 the number with Alzheimer’s may triple
- 6th leading cause of death
- 3rd leading cause of death for seniors
- Life expectancy after diagnosis: 4–8 yrs.
- Cost $236 billion for care each year
Deaths from Alzheimer’s keep increasing, while deaths from the other top 10 killers are decreasing
- Most advice about avoiding mental decline falls into two broad categories: watching your health and eating and staying socially and mentally active. Research has found that those who stay mentally active are 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Here’s what we’ve learned.
- Stay Healthy – the big issues
- Control weight, cholesterol, blood pressure
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol
- Manage stress – relax, meditate, pray, maintain a sense of humor
- Get enough sleep – about 7–8 hours
- Exercise (elevate heart rate) for 20–30 minutes, for 150 minutes/week
- Eat a Healthy Diet – A Mediterranean diet is recommended.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Limit added sugars
- Avoid trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils and fatty acids
- Add omega-3 fats (certain fish, seeds and nuts)
- Cook at home
- Consider supplements: folic acid, vitamin B12 and D, magnesium, fish oil
- Get out
- Join a club, community or senior center
- Take a class, join a book group, attend plays or lectures
- Connect with family, friends and neighbors
Stay Mentally Active
- Learn something new, e.g., a language, an instrument
- Play strategy games, cards, chess, crosswords and other puzzles
- Have a hobby—gardening, woodworking, painting, singing
- Practice the 5 W’s—ask who, what, when, where, why
- Vary your habits and routines
- Do memory exercises and games
Memory Tips From AHealthierMichigan.org
As you go through life, your body isn’t the only thing that needs exercise – your brain needs it, too! According to research, seniors who stay mentally active are 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia than those who do not. And the benefits are long-lasting. A recent study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics revealed that cognitive exercises help older adults hold on to improvements in their reasoning skills and processing speed for up to 10 years.
The good news is that you don’t have to go back to school to boost your brain power—online brain games make staying mentally fit as easy as pressing a few keys. Here are seven brain games to keep your mind sharp:
- AARP BrainHQ: Developed by a team of top neuroscientists, BrainHQ has games ranging from memory exercise to navigation exercise. Not only are these games fun, they are also extremely effective. Over the past few years, there have been dozens of published studies that show the real and lasting improvements in brain function as a result of doing BrainHQ exercise. Try one of the exercises for free.
- Braingle: This free site has more than 20,000 brain teasers, riddles, logic problems, puzzles and more to choose from. All the games are ranked by users so you can easily find the best and most effective exercises for your brain.
- SharpBrains: SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and wellness applications of brain science, so they know what works. Their site not only includes more than 50 brain teasers to select from, they also have a variety of articles around the brain for those interested in learning more.
- Writing in the Stars: If you like crossword puzzles, this is the game for you. Users are given a list of nine words and must find the six that connect in order to form a six-point star and move on to the next round.
- Private Eye: What doesn’t belong? In this game, users are asked to use their “private eye” to peruse a grid full of intricate symbols and letters in order to identify the one item that doesn’t fit.
- WordCrunch: WordCrunch is a fun new spin on online word search puzzles that can keep you entertained for hours. It’s the ultimate test on your mental speed and visual acuity – plus the site changes themes daily to keep you on your toes.
- Wordle: This game may be basic, but it’s definitely not simple. The object is to build words with the six letters you are given. Once you fill all of the slots, you are scored based on the difficultly of the words you built.