Senior Living And Memory Care
The human body—and the human mind—experience a vast series of changes throughout our lifetimes, not least when we reach our senior years. Changes in the way our bodies respond to the environment, stress, and movement—including within our bones, heart, skin, and digestive system—necessitate alterations in the way we eat, exercise, work, relax, and more. Similarly, shifts and declines in our senses, cognition, processing, and memory often require that we make adjustments to the way we live. Unfortunately, these changing needs make living alone challenging, difficult, or unsafe for many seniors.
In fact, over 69% of all Americans over the age of 65 will require some form of professional support in their later years, including long-term care. Of these, more than 50% will exhibit dementia or another form of age-related cognitive decline. In short, approximately 5 million individuals live with a variety of dementia-causing conditions throughout the country—and it is crucial to ensure that each has the environment and memory care necessary to continue to live safely, happily, and healthily as dementia progresses.
What Makes Dementia Different From Normal Aging?
The vast majority of people experience at least some age-related decline in cognition, decision-making, processing, and other elements of thinking. Perhaps the best-known symptom of normal aging is the very decline in memory that is so often associated with aging individuals. However, while it may be normal to experience a few memory-related issues—such as slower recall, distraction, and difficulty multi-tasking—beginning in the mid-40s, these issues should not affect life daily. Many individuals report that memory increases with age.
Unlike normal aging, dementia and memory conditions occur when nerve cells in the brain are damaged, eventually resulting in cell death. These lost connections between critical components of the brain can impact memory, speech, social skills, and cognition. While symptoms can differ depending on the type of dementia and the affected portions of the brain, related dementia symptoms are progressive, meaning they typically worsen over time. Eventually, symptoms of dementia are distinct from those of normal, age-related decline and begin to significantly affect the activities of daily living.
Signs you or your loved one may be experiencing dementia instead of normal aging include:
- Frequent memory loss, especially names of familiar items or family members
- Trouble finding the right words to communicate
- Newly emerging visual-spatial and orientation issues, which may make driving or navigating the home environment difficult
- Reduced coordination and trouble completing motor activities
- Difficulty completing complex tasks
- New issues with planning or organizing
- Problem-solving issues
- Taking longer to complete tasks than before
- Reduced reasoning capabilities
- Frequently misplacing objects, especially in odd places
- Forgetting the purpose or function of familiar items
- Frequent confusion
- Personality changes
- Depression, anxiety, or paranoia
If your loved one is experiencing these issues to the extent that the symptoms affect their daily life, it is essential to speak with your primary care provider and a memory care professional such as a neurologist.
When Should You Choose Long-Term Assisted Living Care?
When your loved one is experiencing dementia, including memory loss, confusion, and more, the first available option is often for family members to provide care within the home setting. However, since dementia is a progressive condition, most family members eventually become unable to provide for the individual’s needs within the home setting. As a result, most people with dementia will require long-term care and the amenities it provides.
If you are among the millions of Americans searching for long-term care for your loved one as they experience the effects of dementia or another aging-related condition, you likely face several important decisions. Chief among them is deciding to transition from your loved one’s current living situation to a long-term care facility. While this decision depends mainly on the individual’s symptoms and the caregiver’s capabilities—and will come at different junctures for different families—there are several key indicators that it may be time for long-term care.
- Your Loved One Is Experiencing Mobility Issues
While many individuals with early-stage dementia retain the ability to move about the home environment without issue, mobility issues are a hallmark of advanced dementia. As a result, as the disease progresses, your loved one may experience difficulties achieving many activities of daily living, including dressing, bathing, and using the toilet. In addition, if the primary caregiver is smaller than the patient, has mobility issues themselves, or if the home has accessibility problems, the situation can quickly become dangerous for all involved. By contrast, long-term care options provide the proper training and equipment necessary to safely assist your loved one.
- Your Loved One Requires Multiple Medications
As long as your loved one remains at home, you or another family caregiver retain the primary responsibility for administering medications. With multiple medications, this task can quickly become difficult to manage, especially with many different daily dosages and administration times. In particular, family caregivers tasked with monitoring an individual with dementia after medication alterations may experience difficulty pinpointing changes in behavior, mood, or symptoms easily identified by a professional. Long-term care options typically provide medication monitoring to ensure medications are given at the right time, the correct dosage, and are altered based on a doctor’s recommendation.
- Your Loved One Has Begun Wandering
One of the most hazardous elements of the residential home to an individual with dementia is its lack of security. Often, it is all too easy for your loved one to wander to another part of the house or even outdoors without detection. Worse, if your loved one wanders outside of the caregiver’s vision, it is difficult for a single individual to retrieve them. Long-term care facilities can provide a secure setting that ensures each individual is safe whether they wander indoors or within a specially designed outdoor area. In addition, they typically have security features like video monitoring, security exits, and specialized security protocols to prevent your loved one from getting lost or injured.
- You Are Experiencing Caregiver Stress
The strain of caring for a loved one with dementia is often overwhelming and can begin to impact every area of your life. Whether you suffer from emotional stress, physical strain, or even an inability to maintain your own daily life activities, caregiver stress is a genuine hazard of providing care. In particular, if you are a senior yourself, you may have minor ailments exacerbated by being a caregiver. However, there is no shame in reaching your physical or emotional limits, and choosing long-term care can provide much-needed relief for both you and your loved one.
What Type of Long-Term Assisted Living Care Should You Choose?
Another crucial decision you must make while caring for a loved one with dementia and memory issues is which type of long-term care you will choose. As you may know, there are several options available, and the ideal type of care for your loved one ultimately depends on the type and severity of their symptoms and any other unique needs they may have. Popular options for those with dementia include:
- Nursing homes
- Residential care homes
- Assisted living
- Memory care
While nursing homes and residential care homes provide the most comprehensive medical care, especially for those with high medical needs, many do not include memory care as a part of their offerings. As a result, assisted living and memory care remain the most popular options for individuals with dementia and their families.
What Is Assisted Living?
It is easy to see why assisted living is one of the most utilized options for caregivers of individuals with dementia. Assisted living facilities are often a less-restrictive environment than the more institutional setting of a nursing home. Although they often provide 24-hour supervision, assistance with activities of daily living, activities, social opportunities, meals, and healthcare services, assisted living facilities provide an environment that very closely mirrors a private home or apartment.
As mentioned above, as a long-term care option, assisted living can provide residents with services for all of the most critical activities of daily living, including:
- Meal preparation
- Bathing and toileting
- Personal hygiene
- Medication monitoring
- Transportation into the community, and more
Additional Benefits Provided by Memory Care Communities
Memory care programs often exist within more general assisted living communities. As such, they provide the same general assistance for memory care and dementia patients as the larger facility does for all its residents. Aside from a home-like setting and help with the activities of daily living, however, memory care programs and facilities endeavor to address each of the previously listed issues that may lead individuals with dementia to seek long-term care.
By addressing dementia comprehensively, memory care programs are better equipped than general assisted living communities to provide an environment in which individuals with dementia can slow cognitive decline, stave off memory loss, and maintain a high quality of life. Thus, assisted living facilities that offer memory and dementia care programs typically have several features that differentiate them from general assisted living communities.
- More Numerous, Specially Trained Staff
While all assisted living staff must be wellversed in assisting with activities of daily living, medication monitoring, and healthcare services, memory care staff are usually specially trained to offer more specific services to individuals with dementia. In particular, staff members are trained to manage the especially dangerous behaviors often exhibited by individuals with dementia—wandering, limited mobility, confusion, memory issues, paranoia, aggression, and more—and prevent them from experiencing harm. At the same time, these staff members know how important it is for memory care patients to retain a sense of independence and a sense of self. Finally, memory care facilities often provide a much lower staff-to-patient ratio than general assisted living communities.
- Safety Measures
Similarly, while all assisted living communities must be safe and secure, safety and security are of particular concern within a memory care facility. Locked doors equipped with keypads or keycard entries and exits equipped with doorbells are just two of the security measures that may exist within a dementia care facility. In addition, such facilities may use color-coded décor to help prevent disorientation, and specially designed layouts developed to aid in orientation and reduce confusion. Some facilities even provide motion-activated lights and additional environmental features to help ensure safety.
- Amenities and Therapies
While both assisted living and memory care communities typically offer various social and individual activities designed to keep residents active, memory care facilities offer specialized activities designed for individuals experiencing memory loss. Activities like art therapy, music therapy, pet therapy, and memory therapy are carefully coordinated to provide a sense of independence, routine, and community while targeting cognitive skills and memory retention. In addition, activity areas are clearly defined and carefully planned to prevent feelings of confinement and confusion.
- Specialized Nutrition
Both assisted living and memory care facilities strive to provide the best nutrition possible for all residents. However, while assisted living communities may enable residents to cook for themselves or attend meals within a social setting, memory care communities place much more importance on ways dementia can affect nutrition. For example, memory care facilities provide meals that consider dietary concerns unique to dementia and are attuned to each patient’s specific needs and preferences. In addition, dementia care facilities provide meals in a home-like environment and may use specialized utensils designed for dementia patients.
Choosing Memory Care Senior Living for Your Loved One
While many individuals in the earliest stages of dementia may fare quite well in a traditional assisted living environment, memory care can provide additional services necessary while their condition progresses. For example, if your loved one is experiencing trouble with many of the activities of daily living, shows the tendency to wander, has limited mobility or is otherwise exposed to dangerous situations when not in a secure environment, memory care can provide the specialized support they need to remain safe while maintaining as much independence as possible. Best of all, each aspect of care is designed with a particular focus on the needs experienced by an individual with dementia.
At Rocky Mountain Assisted Living, we are proud to offer specialized homes designed for individuals experiencing dementia. Here, you will experience highly trained and specialized staff, a low patient-to-staff ratio, and person-centered living environments, activities, and therapies ideal for those with dementia. But, perhaps most important, our residents experience this top-tier medical care in an independence-rich environment that closely mirrors the comfort of their own home.
If you’d like to learn more about assisted living and how our specialized memory care homes can address the physical, spiritual, social, and emotional well-being of your loved one, contact Rocky Mountain Assisted Living at your earliest convenience.