Seeing a parent or other loved one struggle with cognitive decline, dementia, or memory issues can be an emotional challenge for anyone. We often have to remind ourselves that the process is a marathon and not a sprint.
For some individuals diagnosed with dementia, symptoms progress rapidly, yet for others, it moves slowly. Most have some “good days” mixed in with some “tough days.” In time, most people with dementia will need some level of professional care, which might also include a senior community that provides high-quality memory care and assisted living.
Tracy Marcinski - Senior Living Counselor notes:
It is always difficult for a family to move a loved one into a senior community, but even harder when it is a memory care assisted living. The secure environment that offers our memory care residents the safety they require can seem a bit much for a family that has never visited this type of community. The locked doors and other security features sometimes seem a bit much for someone that has never visited one...
I recently asked our Memory Care Director what she would say to someone who has never visited before they came to visit her at work and she said she would just tell them that “we are all on a separate journey with the disease process of dementia”.
Dementia Has Many Stages
When you first visit our memory care community, you will likely see residents who are in various stages of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or cognitive decline. Depending on the stage and the individual, symptoms may not physically manifest in a way that is easy to recognize.
Some individuals may seem to be barely affected at first, able to carry on conversations and interact as if they were guests themselves. Then there will be other individuals who have lost their ability to communicate clearly, or who have developed significant mobility issues.
The disease of dementia impacts each individual in unique ways. Making sure that each resident is safe, supported, and receiving the type of care they need for their particular stage of dementia, requires a custom treatment plan. At Heritage Communities, we focus on providing individualized care at every single, unique stage of the process.
A vast amount of research and caregiver experience has found that providing Alzheimer’s and dementia residents with a positive comfortable environment, improves treatment outcomes.
Dementia symptoms tend to make residents feel increased anxiety and stress, which is why we make in a point to keep things as consistent and familiar every day to make our residents feel comfortable and “At Home.” Whenever possible we try to include familiar components and routines to also help them feel anchored in their expectation as they go through their day. In a short amount of time, constant changes can make them increasingly sensitive to their physical and social environments. Many individuals in a stressed environment or distressing emotional state will rely on their senses for cues and react to a stimulus with little forethought.
There are several things that might go into this approach depending on the needs and personality of the individual. Whenever possible we try to include familiar touches of home. This might include things like
- Familiar decorations with soothing colors
- Setting the temperature of their room to the patient’s comfort level.
- Caregivers providing them with a familiar routine
- Furnishing their room to feel like they are living in a community instead of a medical facility
- Whenever possible meals can be served in smaller dining rooms to encourage a sense that the residents are in the community.
- Providing opportunities for residents to socialize and interact with other individuals who are in a similar stage of dementia.
- Engaging spaces for activities, like art and music therapy areas
- Providing a family visiting area
- Ensuring that all outdoor areas are safely secured, yet easily accessible for residents
- Ensuring that each of our resident-residents is asked for their feedback to help them feel in control of their environment
- Ensuring that a patient’s individual residence is secure and feels safe.
- Ensure that any medical support is offered discreetly, as well as at the highest level of service
- Providing fail-safe activities for residents to engage in without fear of being, or doing something, wrong
Visiting During The Adjustment Phase Helps Residents Become Comfortable
Different residents have different social needs, which can be influenced by their individual personality as well as the stage of dementia there are currently in. Our staff can work closely with you and other loved ones to help find the visitation schedule that is best for them.
For some individuals, frequent visitation from friends and family members is critical. Yet there are other residents who prefer to be given their own time to simply settle in and find their own personal comfort zone in the community.
Typically, it’s a good idea to visit shortly after the move-in. This can help give the patient the feeling that little has changed. However, some residents may experience anxiety, or present a difficult response. In a situation like this, it might be better to give them a few days to settle in and find a comfortable place.
Is Time Of Day A Factor For Visiting?
Many memory care residents are influenced by the time of day when they receive a visit. Some individuals are more energetic and more active at certain times of day, as opposed to others. Chances are you may be familiar with these times. Yet they could change once they have settled into their new environment. Our staff can help you dial in the best times.
At first, some residents might be more comfortable with short, relaxed visits. While others may want to have their loved ones close at hand, while they are still working to develop new friendships inside the community.
It can help to keep the early visits simple. For many of our residents, a loved one’s presence is more than enough to help them settle in. It also helps to be mindful of how your mood can impact their mood. It’s important to remain calm, even if there are a few complications. Stay alert to signs that your loved one is becoming tired or irritated. It’s sometimes better to cut a visit short, to let them calm down or perhaps even recharge with a short nap.
Remember To Practice Self-Care
Of course, your own emotional dynamics matter. It’s okay to give yourself permission to have a bad day from time to time. It’s important to keep in mind that your own self-care plays an important role in the kind of emotional support your loved one needs.
Seeking out positive reinforcement activities for yourself can also help you manage stress and feelings affecting you about the state of your loved one, and the progress of their condition. You might want to consider seeking out professional therapy or finding a support group of other individuals with loved ones suffering from dementia. Even something as simple as keeping a daily gratitude journal can help keep you grounded in the kind of positive emotional state that your loved one needs most from you.
Above all else know you and your loved ones can rest easy they are in the empathetic hands of an experienced caring family that Heritage has come to be know for, for countless families like yours over the years.