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Alzheimer's disease and memory care

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disorder, which affects the brain and its functions. Commonly diagnosed in older adults, it leads to memory loss, impaired thinking, and language difficulties. According to the National Institute on Aging, over 6 million people in the United States suffer from this condition. Most of them are over the age of 65. In the near future, it is expected that more and more people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Given the challenges brought on by dementia, it makes sense for seniors to consider alternative living solutions. The number one option is represented by memory care, as you will see in the article above.

What is Alzheimer's disease?

As mentioned above, this is a brain disorder that affects memory, language, and cognition. It progresses over time, preventing seniors from carrying out even the simplest of tasks. Alzheimer's disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, being most often diagnosed in the older population. It influences not only physical health, but also mental health; associated manifestations include behavioral changes, emotional upswings, and diminished reasoning abilities.

Dementia can be presented in different stages, starting with the mildest stage when the senior is still able to maintain his/her independence. In the severe stage of dementia, seniors are completely reliant on other people, requiring constant supervision. There might come a point when the respective person is no longer able to distinguish between right and wrong, presenting an increased risk of wandering and self-harm. This is the main reason why dementia seniors need 24/7 monitoring, which is often provided by caregivers.

Researchers haven't been able to find out the cause of Alzheimer's disease, despite the extensive efforts made in this direction. It is known that this form of dementia is associated with specific changes in the brain, including the loss of connections between neurons. Unfortunately, the first modifications appear decades before the symptoms become obvious. As dementia progresses, the brain damage extends; in the final stages, the brain tissue presents significant shrinkage. It has been suggested that a wide range of factors might be involved in the appearance of this condition, including general health, environmental conditions, and lifestyle.

Alzheimer's disease can be mild, moderate, and severe, with the symptoms varying accordingly. Someone who suffers from mild dementia might present memory loss and cognitive decline, but these are not pronounced. Many seniors might wander or get lost, having difficulties when it comes to finances and daily tasks. They might repeat questions as a result of feeling confused, dealing with personality and behavior changes at the same time. Such changes will often cause them to seek an accurate diagnosis.

When it comes to moderate forms, seniors might present language difficulties and impaired reasoning. Many are dealing with sensory processing issues, not to mention that both memory loss and confusion become more pronounced. They might have trouble remembering recent events, as well as fail to recognize their family and friends. Daily tasks might become impossible to perform alone and impulsive behavior can be a common occurrence. Paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions can appear as well. Severe forms are associated with complete dependence and lack of functioning; seniors may be bedridden and unable to communicate.

The diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is made by a specialist and it always includes a detailed analysis of one's medical history. Among the other things that help with the diagnosis, there are: prescription medication, medical problems in the past, level of independence/assistance required, behavioral and personality changes, memory & cognition tests, blood and urine tests, brain scans.

There is no current treatment available that can be used to cure this condition. Medical specialists are employing various treatment solutions to help seniors manage their symptoms. Certain medications have been approved to this purpose, but they do not give the expected results in all cases. Other drugs might be used to counteract the changes in the brain. Non-medical approaches are used to manage the behavioral changes, including cognitive therapy, occupational therapy, psychotherapy, etc. Physical therapy and water therapy can help with physical changes, improving the overall functioning.

Challenges of Alzheimer's disease

It is a clear fact that Alzheimer's disease affects the overall quality of life. As the condition progresses, seniors will present a number of changes, which will play a definite role on everyday living. They will lose their independence gradually, requiring assistance with ADLs, such as eating, dressing, bathing, grooming, and toileting. Most of the times, both family members and friends assume the role of caregivers, helping seniors handle such tasks, to the best of their abilities and knowledge.

The inability to maintain one's independence can lead to a permanent state of frustration and irritation. As a result of brain changes, seniors might deal with discomforting manifestations, such as emotional upswings, paranoia, delusion, hallucinations, etc. Their reasoning abilities will become impaired, so they will no longer be able to distinguish between right and wrong. All of these changes can increase the risk of self-harm, wandering, and injuries. In this stage, many caregivers offer 24/7 monitoring, fearing a negative outcome should their loved one be left alone.

The situation is not easy to handle for caregivers either. Most of them start out with the best of intentions, but they soon realize how different reality is. Unlike within a specialized community, caregivers are ill-equipped to handle the very specific needs of dementia seniors. As Alzheimer's disease becomes worse, they might deal with health issues themselves. Many report feeling burnout, anxious, or depressed. In consequence, they might be the first ones to suggest alternative living solutions, such as memory care.

Memory care: the best option for those living with Alzheimer's disease

Memory care communities have been established to offer long-term residential care to those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. These centers welcome dementia seniors over the age of 55 or 62, depending on each facility. Aside from a required diagnosis of dementia, seniors must present a detailed list of current impairments. To be granted admittance, they might also meet the other criteria, such as the marital status, income, co-existing conditions, level of assistance/independence, treatments taken.

The move into a memory care community can be highly beneficial for someone diagnosed with dementia. Seniors benefit from adapted housing, which are either designed as bedrooms or apartments, and equipped with countless safety and accessibility features. Even the bathrooms have their own features to prevent common accidents, such as slipping and falling on wet surfaces. General safety features are employed to help residents feel safe and secure, including keyed/alarmed entries, coded elevators, tracking bracelets, and enclosed outdoor spaces. Functional emergency response systems are included within housing units, being highly useful in case of major health events.

Within a memory care facility, seniors benefit from specialized care and assistance with everyday task. Trained personnel provide the help they need, while taking the necessary measures to encourage the residents' independence. Healthcare might be offered by experienced staff, including wound care, diabetes care, incontinence care, and mobility assistance. In many centers, these types of care are handled by third-party providers, with the costs being covered by each resident in question. Seniors also benefit from a wide range of general services, including: housekeeping, meal planning and preparation, 24/7 security, general maintenance, errand running and shopping, Internet and telephone access, laundry and linen service, etc.

Most of the seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease deal with depression and anxiety. Fearing judgment, they might become withdrawn, avoiding social interaction. Upon transitioning into a memory care community, they will be able to work on such matters. They can take part to various group activities, feeling less depressed or anxious as a result. Moreover, dementia seniors will discover the value of shared experiences, realizing they are not alone. Soon after moving into such a facility, seniors report an improved mindset, feeling motivated to manage their condition.

The activities integrated into the daily routine are beneficial for both physical and mental health. Seniors have the opportunity to swim, do yoga, or practice fitness. They can take part to group activities or practice some of their favorite hobbies, such as reading. Additional amenities that might be available include: weekly religious service, computer room, off-site trips, guided walks, memory garden, birthday celebrations and other events. Each memory care facility might offer additional amenities.

Therapies available within memory care communities

All memory care communities have their individual therapeutic programs, which are designed especially for dementia seniors. These programs are meant to help seniors deal with their symptoms, but also to stay active and engaged. Thanks to various therapies, residents are able to work on preserving their current skills and even delay the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

These are some of the most common therapies available within memory care communities:

  • Speech therapy – seniors can work on language difficulties, finding the best ways to compensate for their current deficits. Speech pathologists can also help dementia seniors who suffer from swallowing issues, providing them with effective strategies.
  • Occupational therapy – occupational therapists help dementia seniors stay as independent as possible. They might also offer suggestions on adapting the living environment, so as to better support the resident in question.
  • Cognitive therapy – therapists help seniors work on their current skills, with focus on residual memory and thinking. Cognitive stimulating therapy has been found to be particularly effective for Alzheimer's disease.
  • Physical therapy – dementia seniors might deal with balance and gait issues, presenting an increased risk of falling. Physical therapists can help them improve their balance and also to maintain their muscle strength, reducing the risk of fractures and other injuries.
  • Water therapy – aquatic exercises can help seniors maintain the best possible state of physical health. Regular exercises are easier to perform in water, not to mention seniors no longer have to worry about falling or pain.
  • Taste and scent therapy – this therapy employs various activities that can trigger memory, such as smelling or eating baked goods.
  • Art therapy – seniors who paint, draw, or create various crafts present an improved mood, feeling less depressed, anxious, or agitated. Art can be beneficial for motor skills as well.
  • Engagement therapy – to keep residents active and engaged, a wide range of activities are chosen. These can include board games, puzzles, brain games, sensory boxes, etc.
  • Music therapy – music is one of the best ways to trigger memories, not to mention it helps residents feel less anxious, stressed, or agitated.
  • Video therapy – residents are shown home videos, favorite movies and concerts. As a result, they might feel calmer and happier.
  • Pet therapy – trained pets can interact with dementia seniors, with an instant effect whereas their mood is concerned. Many seniors enjoy stroking the fur of dogs or cats, but other pets might be used as well.
  • Reminiscence therapy – familiar items are shown to residents, with the purpose of jogging their memory. These can range from photos of their loved ones to familiar objects and recordings. Family members might join the respective therapy sessions.

Safety, a main goal of memory care communities

As it was already mentioned above, safety is one of the main goals all memory care communities share. Seniors who suffer from Alzheimer's disease often feel uncertain and confused, with the progression of their condition making everything worse. Within a memory care community, they stand a better chance of achieving that sensation of absolute safety. This is because they have access to a safe and secure living environment, with specific measures destined to prevent them from wandering.

In many centers, residents are required to wear tracking bracelets. These allow the staff to monitor residents and their whereabouts at all times. From a different perspective, it is worth mentioning that these tracking bracelets offer residents more freedom to explore outdoor spaces. The staff can also contribute to a sense of security, helping residents deal with emotional upswings in a healthy manner. Given their experience and knowledge, they are able to handle situations involving hallucinations and paranoia, without anyone getting hurt. This is a significant advantage to consider, particularly when it comes to those who suffer from advanced forms of dementia.

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