Families searching for dementia help often don’t realize that there is an entire continuum of memory care options available to them.
Being a caregiver for a loved one with dementia takes its toll, and eventually you simply can’t do it alone anymore. With symptoms worsening over the months and years, it becomes necessary to increase daily care to provide more and more assistance with everyday tasks like dressing, bathing and eating. Safety can become an issue necessitating a more secure environment. It is also extremely beneficial to provide a loved one with dementia access to professional programming to improve their quality of daily life through proven behavioral interventions, enhancing cognitive health, and minimizing anxiety and confusion.
I’ve outlined the continuum of care – from low level home care assistance to placement in a nursing home – to help you determine what’s best as your loved one’s dementia progresses over time.
OPTIONS FOR EARLY STAGES OF DEMENTIA
#1 Caring for a Parent with Dementia at Home. During the early stages of mild memory loss and cognitive impairment, many families choose in-home care so their loved one can stay in a familiar environment.
- In-home help can be customized according to the needs of the person. Assistants can take care of tasks like meal prep, housekeeping and shopping, as well as provide help in the bathroom and preparing for bedtime.
- Even when the primary caregiver is a family member, having a part-time home care assistant visit with the senior and look after some of their needs can relieve the stress of caregiver burnout.
- Safety upgrades should be made around the house, including putting away sharp objects like knives and scissors, storing medications in a safe place, and pulling up area rugs that create a trip hazard.
#2 Adult Day Centers. These centers provide seniors with meaningful social contact through engagement in programs and activities while family caregivers attend work, look after themselves, or take a break.
- Some facilities have programs tailored exclusively for those with dementia, and many arrange transportation and provide meals. Activities include exercise, support groups, music and art.
- Being with individuals who face similar problems can help individuals with memory loss feel less isolated as they socialize with their peers in a safe place.
- Your loved one might be resistant, but encourage them to give it a fair shot since many enjoy adult day care after an initial adjustment.
#3 Assisted Living. These communities offer private apartments for seniors along with a multitude of services, such as restaurant-style dining, personal care assistance with bathing and dressing, laundry and housekeeping, and robust social programming and entertainment.
- This care option is often the perfect next step when living at home alone with in-home services becomes unmanageable or expensive, or if the burden of family providing care has become too much for their daily life.
- Assisted Living can provide the safety, structure and social opportunities that allows a senior with Mild Cognitive Impairment, an early stage of Alzheimer’s, to thrive.
- Your loved one can live with independence, and you as a caregiver, can rest assured that they will be looked after.
- Many Assisted Living communities also offer Respite Programs with short-term stays for caregivers who need a break to recharge.
OPTIONS FOR LATER STAGES OF DEMENTIA
#1 Memory Care at an Assisted Living Community. Families often ask, “When should dementia patients go into care?” If your loved one is further along their Alzheimer’s journey with advanced memory loss and confusion, poor judgement and decision making, or is a safety risk for wandering, you should consider a Memory Support Neighborhood at an Assisted Living community.
- Many Assisted Living communities feature a separate and secure space within their building to offer tailored support specifically for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
- Your loved one will have their own private apartment and can come and go within the neighborhood as they wish, enhancing their feelings of independence and autonomy. The overall environment is home-like and social as Assisted Living communities are designed and licensed as residential communities vs. medical facilities.
- There are many opportunities to participate in exercise, music, art and lifelong learning classes which are specifically designed for the dementia population.
- This is an excellent option for those who have increasing difficulty with daily tasks but do not need round-the-clock skilled nursing care. In fact, many seniors with Alzheimer’s disease never progress to a nursing home. Their families can arrange for visiting nursing services and end-of-life care delivered in the privacy of their apartment.
#2 Nursing Homes for Dementia Patients. If your loved one’s physical health has declined in addition to worsening Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms and 24/7 skilled medical supervision is necessary, they should be referred to a nursing home.
- This long-term care option offers a safe environment in which physicians and nurses attend to your loved one’s chronic medical conditions.
- Patients can benefit from special diets based on nutritional needs and pureed food for those who have trouble eating and swallowing.
- Some nursing homes have separate Memory Care Units or specialized programming for their dementia patients. You should ask about this when considering nursing home placement.
Over many years working with families and seniors with dementia I know that conversations about their diagnosis and future can be difficult. However, it can also be very comforting to the person with dementia to be involved in decisions regarding their care options. As their disease progresses, it becomes harder for them to provide input about their personal preferences and desires that will help you make the right decision for them down the road. So, I recommend you initiate conversations early and also take into account your needs and limitations as the primary caregiver.