Is Memory Care The Right Choice
For Your Loved One?
How much do you know about Alzheimer’s disease? Are you concerned that you, or someone you know, might be experiencing some of the early symptoms of dementia? Or do you have a family member whose dementia is progressing? Are you looking for a safe, secure environment where your loved one will be in good hands and receive the care he or she needs to enjoy the best quality of life possible? Is memory care the right choice for your loved one?
September is World Alzheimer’s Month. An estimated 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia worldwide. In the U.S., one in 10 people age 65 or older has Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
Read on to learn more about the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and the kinds of services we offer in our Memory Care Center.
Is It Alzheimer’s Disease, Some Other Type Of Dementia, Or Something Else?
Having trouble remembering new information is the most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, and as the disease progresses the symptoms become more severe. Disorientation, changes in mood and behavior, difficulty concentrating, challenges with conversations and vocabulary, increasing confusion about events, time and place, withdrawing from favorite activities and hobbies—these can all be symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
But individually, these issues can also be attributed to other causes, such as certain medications, nutritional deficiencies and emotional disorders, just to name a few. That’s why it’s important to talk with a medical professional about getting an evaluation if you or someone you care about is exhibiting symptoms like these.
Whether it turns out to be Alzheimer’s disease or some other cause, early detection is the key to receiving the most benefit from potential treatments. If something else is causing the issue, it’s possible that the underlying problem can be halted, or in some cases, even reversed. If it is Alzheimer’s disease, the sooner it’s diagnosed, the more time there is to plan for the care that will be needed in the future.
Research Continues To Hold Out Hope
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease at this time, there are treatments that can slow the progression of the symptoms associated with the condition. And, researchers continue to work in earnest to find a cure. In 2019, research funding for Alzheimer’s disease at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reached an all-time high: $2.8 billion annually.1
Breakthroughs in research make the news headlines regularly. In fact, the NIH just reported about a blood test that appears to be as good as positron emission tomography (PET) imaging and tests that use cerebrospinal fluid to determine the development of Alzheimer’s disease in an individual—in many cases long before the symptoms of dementia become noticeable.2
Home Care Or Professional Care?
It’s common for family members to want to keep their loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia living at home for as long as possible. In the early stages, that’s often helpful for someone who is only beginning to experience memory loss or confusion. Being in familiar surroundings and having familiar people close by can be of great comfort.
As time passes, though, and the symptoms become worse, it could be time to consider professional care. People with dementia might forget to eat or choose to avoid certain foods, which can lead to malnutrition. They can develop severe depression or anxiety. It can even be dangerous—both for the individual and for those around him or her. People in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease can become aggressive and lash out at their caretakers. They also can wander off on their own and get lost. Even if no one gets hurt in that scenario, it still can cause a lot of emotional trauma.
While it can be a difficult one to make, at some point professional memory care may be the most loving choice. By ensuring that their loved one is in a safe environment with structured activities and full-time caregivers, the family is doing the best thing for everyone concerned.
At first, family members might feel guilty about even thinking about moving their mother, father, or spouse into a place that provides specialized care for people with dementia. They might feel as though they are shifting their responsibilities to someone else, or abandoning someone they care about deeply. But it’s important to realize that this change is more difficult for the family than it is for the individual. People who have more advanced cases of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia no longer experience the same range of emotions—the disease limits their ability to process information and respond accordingly. They may be aware that they are in a different place. They may also know that other people besides their family members are around to help them. At times, they may ask where their spouse or adult child is. But in the advanced stages, these periods of awareness typically grow shorter and less frequent. Much of the time their mind is not in the present, or even in the past, as memories continue to fade.
So, while it’s not at all unusual for guilt to cause those who are making the decision to put it off until it’s absolutely necessary, that guilt isn’t helping anyone and may be causing harm. Unless people with advanced dementia are in the right kind of living environment, where they can receive professional care that addresses their specific and unique needs, their quality of life will continue to deteriorate.
It may be helpful to think of it this way: If your loved one’s dementia has progressed to the point where you can no longer provide the level of care day and night they require to stay as physically and mentally healthy as possible, then you are actually doing your spouse or parent a favor by making sure they have continual access to the professional care they need.
The Memory Care Center At Dallas Retirement Village
The staff at the Memory Care Center has undergone specialized training in interacting with people who have dementia, and that can make a big difference, especially in the residents’ quality of life. They know what signs to watch for, including non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language, and how best to communicate with the people who live here. In addition, Hilary Boyce, who is the director of life enrichment at Dallas Retirement Village, works with her team and the Memory Care Center staff to develop a broad variety of activities that keep residents engaged throughout the day.
New residents tend to settle in quickly after they arrive, and it’s not unusual to see them “blossom” and form new friendships with others who live here. Staff members provide round-the-clock supervision and help with the usual activities of daily living, including assistance with meals (whether that entails meal preparation or getting to the dining area), eating, grooming, and toileting, if that level of help is needed. As residents get to know our staff, they commonly respond to staff members as if they were family—and the bonding goes both ways.
“I’ve worked at a lot of different facilities, and this is probably the first one where the staff cares deeply about the residents personally,” said Shanena Perez, who is the administrator at the Memory Care Center. “At a lot of other places, for the care staff, it’s just a job. The staff here takes what they’re doing very, very personally, and they care for every resident as if it was their own grandparent or loved one.”
“The environment here is just different from any other assisted living/skilled nursing/memory care I’ve ever been in,” she added. “The people here are genuinely kind. When they ask you, ‘how are you doing,’ it’s not a formality. They really want to know how you’re doing.”
A typical day shift at the center includes three direct care providers, a registered nurse and two life enrichment leaders, plus Shanena, who has been with Dallas Retirement Village since 2017 but has worked in memory care for 24 years. Night shifts also usually consist of three direct care providers and a registered nurse.
Of note, Dallas Retirement Village is one of the few senior living communities in the Dallas area that offers a free Certified Nurse Assistant course to its staff members.
There are 20 rooms in the Memory Care Center, as well as a common area for activities and socializing, and a beautiful, secured courtyard in the back where residents can enjoy being outside safely. Those who live in other parts of the Dallas Retirement Village campus (i.e., independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing) are given priority when an opening becomes available in the Memory Care Center, but under normal circumstances the center is also able to accept people from outside of the community. Residents are here on a month-to-month basis; no buy-in is required.
While the Memory Care Center is large enough to accommodate much of the demand for memory care services in the Dallas area, it’s small enough to be able to provide highly personalized attention to those who live at the center. And, because Dallas Retirement Village is privately owned, Shellie Friesen-Berry, who is the admissions director, and Shanena Perez, the administrator at the Memory Care Center, have the flexibility to evaluate each person’s unique set of circumstances.
“We had a 90-something-year-old man who moved to memory care from outside of the community. His routine centered on walking his dog at least a mile every single day. That was really what kept him going. We had never had a dog here in memory care before, but knowing how crucial it was to his well-being, we were able to make an exception and allow him to bring his dog. Somebody on the staff would take him out at some point during the day or evening to go for that mile-long walk with his dog,” Shanena noted.
“We’re open to accepting any situation that’s going to make a resident’s life more meaningful, more purposeful, and so we look at each person and their needs individually,” Shanena added. “We don’t have a whole lot of strict guidelines because we understand that each person’s needs are going to be different. That’s the kind of thing that sets the Memory Care Center apart from other places that offer this type of care.”
How COVID-19 Has Changed The Memory Care Center
Like everywhere else, the coronavirus has led to changes here. For the time being, in-person visits at the center are not an option, and the staff has worked diligently to educate family members about why it’s safer for their loved ones to stay here, instead of taking them out and potentially exposing them to the coronavirus. There are safer ways to visit.
For example, Hilary Boyce’s life enrichment team has had great success using video chat options, such as FaceTime and Zoom. They’ve also been using a video app called OneDay that is designed specifically for senior living communities. They use the app to make short videos of the residents, which they send to the residents’ families.
“It’s been fun for everyone, and it’s amazing to see how eagerly residents have taken to these other ways of staying in touch,” Hilary said. “Memory care is the one area here on the Dallas Retirement Village campus where the schedule of activities really didn’t change except for the cancellation of outings. Residents at the center were already in a secure area that’s isolated from the rest of the community. They’ve been able to continue with the activities that they were doing before, which has been a nice, consistent kind of flow for them—and that’s especially important for memory care.”
Shanena, who sees the residents of the center daily, confirmed Hilary’s observations. “Memory care really hasn’t skipped a beat. The residents are continuously engaged, active and keeping busy, and with the video chats, they still feel like they’ve spent that time with their family. They’ve all adapted so well, it’s like the video visits are something they’ve always done.”
Want To Know More?
Dallas Retirement Village takes pride in the personalized care the devoted staff at the Memory Care Center provides for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Staff members are highly skilled at easing any anxiety that new residents feel when they first arrive and helping them settle into a routine that’s comfortable and familiar.
It’s important to note that if residents’ needs change and they can no longer remain in memory care, Dallas Retirement Village has a 121-bed Health Center that offers other levels of care, including skilled nursing.
Our faith-based, resident-centered approach separates us from corporate-owned communities. It guides us as we build the future, while honoring the past.