President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in 1983 – at a time in the United States when fewer than 2 million Americans were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Today, there are more than 5 million people with the disease.
I am often consulted by families and caregivers who experience the disease every day. While their loved ones are living with Alzheimer’s, this disease and other forms of dementia are a 24/7 concern. November is set aside as a time for the rest of the community to pause and recognize them. More than 25 million baby boomers are expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease between now and 2040, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Today, approximately 40% of assisted living residents have some form of dementia. With early-onset of Alzheimer’s or other brain trauma dementia originating from brain trauma, Individuals can begin showing signs of cognitive impairment as early as their 40’s. The photo here features a friend who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 52.
In President Barack Obama’s 2015 proclamation declaring this month as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, he writes: “Although Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, it is often misunderstood, and misperceptions about the disease can isolate and stigmatize people with dementia and their families.”
Choosing whether to care for your parent, grandparent, spouse, brother or sister at home or to find a quality memory care community that is in your budget is a very difficult decision, and one that I encounter with my clients on a frequent basis. Many families are hesitant to explore memory care options outside the home, but it is best to understand your options sooner rather than later. Too often it takes a crisis to realize that care in an environment dedicated to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia is absolutely necessary.
The most important thing to remember is you are not alone. While there are specific long-care planning strategies that I can guide you through, there are also caregiver support groups run by the Alzheimer’s Association in our community. Ask the professionals to recommend a senior care advisor or geriatric case manager to assist you with the many choices.
In honor of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, I’d like to share with you some of the best practices memory care communities implement to help care for and engage with residents with Alzheimer’s. In Sarasota alone there are several new memory care facilities that have opened recently or will be opening in the coming months. You see some of these best practices in use.
Strategic building design is an essential component to all residents’ quality of life that requires incorporating safety elements with a warm, inviting environment. For residents with Alzheimer’s, an open layout, sensible room adjacencies and natural light and flow to the outdoors. Strategic interior décor is another pivotal element to ensuring a community feels safe and like home to residents with Alzheimer’s.
Individualized memory boxes
Memory boxes are wonderful tools for both residents with Alzheimer’s and others in the community to feel involved and connected with one another. Simply a box filled with memories, such as photos, artwork, postcards, vacation souvenirs, recipes, sheet music, and letters, these keepsakes can help residents with Alzheimer’s recall memories, personal interests, children, exercise senses, spur creativity, and inspire conservations with caregivers and family members.
A Snoezelen Room creates a therapeutic environment using light, sound, scents, and music to initiate sensual sensations for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. By reliving past experiences that are remembered and comforting, Snoezelen Room participants have an elevated sense of awareness and exhibit stronger communication with caregivers during and after therapy.
The dining experience for Alzheimer’s residents is enhanced through a number of best practices, such as utilizing specially-designed china that helps food stand out and appear more appealing and by offering finger foods that can be easily eaten even when a resident is walking around. Additionally, by transferring residents in wheelchairs to dining chairs at each meal, a change in perspective boosts engagement and awareness.
Activities such as taking a walk on the beach, fishing, golf, and feeding animals at the local animal shelter all create pleasant days and increase engagement for a person with Alzheimer’s. Whether a new activity or modifying a beloved past time, residents with Alzheimer’s who engage in activity have an enhanced quality of life and reduced wandering and agitation behaviors.
If you are a caregiver, you and your loved one might wish to sign up for the Brain Health Registry and to participate in relevant clinical trials by visiting www.brainhealthregistry.org.
Remember. You are not alone and there are increasingly more resources to support you in this difficult journey.
Parts of this article were excerpted from a white paper created by Argentum and US Against Alzheimer’s and sponsored by MatrixCare on the senior living industry’s role in aiding residents experiencing dementias as well as their loved ones.