Memory Care: It’s not one-size-fits-all

For most seniors, there comes a time when it is no longer safe to live independently. For those seeking a close-knit community, help with the activities of daily living and to unburden themselves from the responsibilities of home ownership, assisted living can be a wonderful option.

As the number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease steadily increases – approximately 5.3 million older Americans have Alzheimer’s while an additional 200,000 individuals younger than 65 are living with early-onset Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association – many assisted living communities have begun offering specialized care and/or services for seniors living with dementia. Some may have a memory care unit or wing attached to the larger residential facility, where 24-hour supervision and care is provided. Other communities may not have distinct living accommodations for their residents with dementia, but may offer a few specialized activities or services.

Then, there are communities created exclusively for seniors living with dementia, commonly referred to as “memory care assisted living” communities. While these communities may have “assisted living” in their titles, memory care assisted living communities arenot assisted living communities with attached memory care wings or units. Rather, these communities only house and care for individuals living with dementia, and are set apart from traditional assisted living communities in several distinctive ways:

They have a specially-trained team of caregivers. Memory care assisted living communities are staffed by those who are specially trained to work with people living with memory loss, such as certified dementia practitioners. CDPs must complete training sessions and seminars to help them understand the unique needs of residents living with memory impairment. After they become CDPs, they continue to attend educational presentations designed to expand their knowledge and help them meet their biannual re-certification requirements. In addition, CDPs often have other impressive credentials that are beneficial to residents: since the certification program is open to all healthcare professionals, CDPs may also be nurses, therapists, physicians, dietitians, etc.

All aspects of memory care assisted living communities are designed with residents’ needs in mind. People living with memory loss are prone to feelings of confusion, anxiety and agitation. To help minimize these feelings, some memory care assisted living communities rely on research-based design that provide residents with familiar settings, easy-to-navigate hallways and common areas, soft lighting, and comforting colors and patterns. These communities often accommodate fewer residents than other senior living communities, and they may divide residents up between smaller “households” or “neighborhoods” to ensure each resident gets the one-on-one care they need.

Dining options at memory care assisted living communities may also include food served in more visually appealing, easy-to-digest forms to make mealtime less stressful for residents.

They offer specialized programming to help promote cognitive function, self-expression and fulfillment in people living with dementia. Common activities include art, music and pet therapy; yoga, tai chi and other stress-relieving exercise programs; massage and aromatherapy; cooking; and various outdoor activities.

Residents are not excluded or separated. Residents in an assisted living memory care unit or wing are typically separated from the rest of the community’s residents. As a result, they may feel isolated or ostracized. Because memory care assisted living communities only care for residents living with dementia, residents have the opportunity to connect with their peers and find a community that accepts and understands them for who they are.

For some seniors and their families, a memory care wing or unit at an assisted living community can be the right fit. However, memory care assisted living communities are a wonderful option for seniors with memory loss who not only need round-the-clock attention and care, but desire an environment that will cater to their unique needs, as well as foster their personal growth and development.

Amanda Jillson, CCM, BSW, MS, CDP, is the Executive Director at Bridges by EPOCH at Nashua, a local memory care assisted living community located at 575 Amherst Street. She can be reached at ajillson@bridgesbyepoch.com.