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Dementia and memory care

Dementia can be seen as an umbrella term for all the changes occurring in the brain in certain people, most often senior adults. Common manifestations include memory loss, cognitive decline, and language impairment. Seniors suffer gradually from impaired functioning, becoming unable to live on their own. Even when family members assume the roles of caregivers, it might not be enough. In this situation, it is recommended to make the transition into memory care. These communities are best equipped to help people with dementia, providing a safe and structured environment in which they can live and manage their symptoms.

What is dementia?

As mentioned above, dementia refers to the abnormal brain changes that occur in certain people. Seniors can suffer from different forms, including Alzheimer's disease, Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, etc. It is worth mentioning that Alzheimer's disease is the most common. There is also mixed dementia, a condition in which seniors can suffer from more than one form. Progressing over time, dementia reaches a point where it becomes severe enough to impair everyday living. It will also affect one's behavior and personality.

Family members are often the first to notice that something is wrong. In many cases, the respective person also realizes the changes, blaming the aging process instead. It can take time before an actual diagnosis is sought, but the symptoms will only become worse. Seniors might have impaired decision-making and problem-solving abilities, not being able to distinguish between right and wrong. They might forego personal hygiene, having difficulties performing daily chores and showing severe forgetfulness. It might become impossible to remember recent events or even the names of their loved ones.

Unfortunately, dementia will also affect one's behavior and emotional stability. Acknowledging the signs of dementia, seniors might become withdrawn, avoiding social interaction. They might suffer from depression and anxiety, feeling gloom about the future. In most cases, seniors will experience emotional upswings, irritation, agitation, confusion, disorientation. With advanced stages, personality changes, odd behaviors, and hallucinations might occur. Due to these symptoms, seniors become prone to wandering and injuries, requiring constant supervision and assistance.

Despite the extensive research, researchers have yet to find the cause of dementia. It is known that dementia appears as a result of damage to brain cells. The manifestations exhibited depend on the area that has been affected, such as the one responsible for memory or language. With Alzheimer's disease, for instance, the region responsible for the memory is often the first affected. In consequence, memory loss is considered to be one of the earliest symptoms of this form of dementia.

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There is no specific test that can be used to confirm the diagnosis of dementia. To reach a conclusion, physicians will take into consideration the patient's medical history. They might also perform a physical examination, lab tests, and make inquiries with regard to daily functioning. Often times, family members can attest to changes characteristic of dementia. It is also common for dementia seniors to visit more than one specialist in search for an accurate diagnosis, given the fact that their symptoms might be attributed to other conditions as well.

While there is no cure for dementia, both therapy and medication can be used to manage the associated symptoms and delay its progression. Various drugs can reduce both cognitive and functional decline, contributing a higher quality of life. Therapy serves the same goals, alleviating discomforting manifestations and slowing down the unavoidable decline. Medical specialists are working towards developing new treatments for dementia, with clinical studies and trials addressing this demand in particular.

Challenges of dementia

It is a known fact that dementia affects the overall quality of life. Due to memory and cognitive issues, seniors might have a hard time keeping track of objects inside their home. They might mismanage finances, forgetting to pay bills or take care of daily expenses. Personal hygiene, housekeeping, and meal preparation might become issues. As dementia progresses, they will become prone to wandering and accidents. Many seniors leave their homes and are found far away from home, confused and unable to explain what happened.

In the beginning, they might mistake the changes for clumsiness due to aging. Over time, they will realize that it has become difficult to perform otherwise simple daily tasks. When it comes to the advanced stages, many seniors need help with ADLs, such as eating, dressing, bathing, grooming, and toileting. In addition, they might require specialized care for co-existing conditions and constant monitoring. Their needs increase in complexity as dementia advances, with independent functioning and living no longer being possible.

Recognizing the need for supervision and assistance, family members might assume the roles of caregivers. They are well intended, wanting to look after their loved ones and offer their help with everyday living. However, it is far from easy to be the caregiver of someone who suffers from dementia. Many people begin to deal with health issues themselves, presenting an increased risk of burnout. It is also highly likely that they are feeling ill-equipped to care for a dementia senior, acknowledging memory care as a more suitable alternative.

Caregivers are also the ones to notice that their loved ones no longer have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. To prevent them from wandering and also reduce the risk of injuries, they will begin to monitor them 24/7. Adding to the already-difficult daily routine, it should come as no surprise that caregivers feel stressed and anxious themselves. In the end, the challenges brought on by dementia are best handled within a dedicated community, with experienced and knowledgeable staff.

How memory care centers help people with dementia

Memory care centers are communities that were especially developed for seniors diagnosed with dementia. They provide residents with access to adapted housing, specialized care, and assistance, all within a safe and structured environment. With the help of the trained personnel, dementia seniors feel less confused and disorientated. Assistance with ADLs is available, as well as healthcare and access to general services. Engaging amenities are provided as well, with social and recreational activities integrated into the daily routine. As a result, dementia seniors enjoy a high standard of living.

One of the top priorities of memory care communities is the safety of all residents. To prevent both wandering and self-harm, these communities have a wealth of safety features in place. Some of the most common include: alarmed or keyed entries/exits, enclosed outdoor spaces, coded elevators, color-coded hallways, easy access to common spaces. It is also possible to ask residents to wear tracking bracelets. In this way, the staff can monitor them at all times, while they have the freedom to explore outdoor spaces.

Memory care facilities provide adapted housing units, either in the form of bedrooms or apartments. Residents have the possibility to live alone or share the respective unit with another senior. Regardless of their option, it is worth mentioning that all the units have safety and accessibility features, as well as an emergency response system in case of major health events. The bathrooms might have additional safety features installed, such as support bars. These serve the purpose of preventing common accidents, such as slipping and falling on wet surfaces.

Life within such a community can be relaxing and engaging at the same time. Seniors no longer have to handle difficult chores, having the opportunity to fill their day as they please. Common chores fall into the responsibility of the staff, with other general services being available as well. The list of services might include the following: housekeeping, general maintenance, laundry and linen service, 24/7 monitoring, meal planning and preparation, Internet and telephone access, scheduled transportation, errand running and shopping.

The amenities offered contribute to a sense of personal achievement and satisfaction, with positive effects over both physical and mental health. Among the most common amenities, one might find: swimming, fitness, yoga, outdoor walks/guided tours, off-site trips, library, computer room, weekly religious service, birthday celebrations and other events, memory garden, social clubs, etc. Each memory care community can offer additional amenities, taking into consideration the needs of their residents.

To keep seniors active and engaged, memory care communities offer therapeutic programs that are highly beneficial. By trying various therapies, seniors will feel less anxious and depressed. Group sessions can encourage social interaction, while individual therapies help seniors work on their current skills and delay the progression of dementia. The choice of therapy is always in direct relation with the resident's abilities and the things he/she is passionate about. Memory care programs are never random, each detail is given careful consideration to.

Among the most common memory care therapies, one can find the following:

  • Reminiscence therapy – seniors are introduced to familiar items, which are likely to bring them comfort. Common choices include: photo albums, ornaments, paintings, clothing, recordings of familiar sounds/voices, scented objects, familiar objects. Family members are often invited to take part to these sessions.
  • Pet therapy – the regular interaction with pets has been proven to help dementia seniors feel less lonely, with a positive effect over the general mindset. Seniors might enjoy stroking the fur of pets, but other options are also possible (fish tanks, bird cages, outdoor playing with other animals).
  • Video therapy – residents might be shown movies they used to love, home videos, concert recordings. These can engage their brain and help them remember happy memories, having a calming effect overall.
  • Music therapy – this form of therapy has been scientifically proven to help with memory loss. It can also help dementia seniors feel less stressed and agitation, with benefits for cognition and communication.
  • Engaging therapy – therapeutic sessions are based on engaging activities, in accordance to one's abilities. These might include: puzzles, sensory boxes/boards, matching/board games, color-based games, workbooks, brain games.
  • Art therapy – whether in the form of painting, crafting, or drawing, art can help seniors improve their mood and feel less agitated. Moreover, it has a beneficial effect when it comes to fine motor skills.
  • Taste and scent therapy – therapeutic sessions include activities meant to engage all the five senses. Dementia seniors might be able to smell various things, which will trigger happy memories. The same goes for various flavors, such as the one of gingerbread or apple pie; as a side benefit, such sessions have been proven to stimulate appetite.

As one can clearly see, all these therapies are meant to help residents maintain their current skills and feel useful at the same time. With clear benefits for memory and cognition, they might also help them delay the progression of dementia. Life with dementia can be difficult, so it's highly beneficial to have a daily routine filled with engaging activities. Music, art, and pets can make a genuine difference whereas the quality of life is concerned, as well as the other types of therapies. These have also been known to minimize the frustration experienced, allowing seniors to feel better.

Other therapies might be provided in each memory care community. Habilitation therapy, for instance, helps residents focus on the tasks they can do and the steps they need to take in order to complete each task. Occupational therapy can help dementia seniors be as independent as possible, often including an assessment of one's living environment. Physical therapy helps with physical ailments, while reality orientation helps seniors stay anchored in the present. Validation therapy is also important, as it focuses on understanding the senior and his/her challenges. During therapy sessions, dementia seniors are working on their emotions, finding healthy ways to express their frustration and agitation. As a result, they reach a state of calm faster.

If someone you know or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, you should make the recommendation of memory care. These communities welcome seniors who suffer from dementia, offering not only adapted housing, but also specialized care, assistance, and 24/7 monitoring. Seniors no longer have to rely on caregivers, who might deal with health issues themselves, including the feared burnout syndrome. Within a memory care center, they are able to manage their manifestations effectively, with access to a wide range of therapies and other beneficial services.

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