Dementia care and memory support have historically been difficult to provide. Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders have not been well understood, so effective treatments were slow to develop.
But memory care is changing. Now that doctors and medical researchers are beginning to gain a better understanding of dementia’s causes and symptoms, memory support care centers are being designed with patients’ needs and tendencies top of mind.
Here’s how people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s will be cared for in the future.
1. Working with wanderers
Many people with dementia wander. It’s a worrisome symptom for care partners because wandering can present substantial risks to people with dementia if they fall or if another critical incident happens.
Over the past few decades, secure memory care centers with open floor plans were built. The latest care centers are being designed to encourage safe wandering.
Memory care centers are coming online today with a variety of built-in sensors that allow care providers to discreetly monitor patients who are wandering. This enables providers to engage the residents with dementia if they approach an unsecured area, or if they becomes confused at the end of a corridor and can’t find the way back to a shared safe space.
Some memory care centers have incorporated smart design elements, like circular layouts or pictures hung off-center at hallway T-intersections, to encourage dementia patients to walk within the building.
Encouraged wandering can be beneficial in several ways. Walking provides much-needed physical activity, which in turn stimulates the poor appetites that are common among people with dementia. So a wandering resident is a fitter, better-nourished resident. Additionally, wandering stimulates brain activity and promotes spontaneous socialization.
2. Shedding more light on memory care
Fluorescent lighting used to be a hallmark feature of institutionalized care. It looked and felt dismal for patients, care providers and families alike.
Modern memory support centers are designed with plenty of large windows and skylights to allow in more natural light. And that’s not just because natural light feels better — natural light is healthier for residents.
Overhead fluorescent lighting can cause glare that distracts, dazzles, or even temporarily blinds people with dementia, increasing the risk of preventable falls and serious fall-related injuries. Natural light, allowed in through reactive, tinted, or recessed windows, can reduce surface glares and keep residents safer as they move around.
The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) has even produced best-practice guidelines on lighting for retirement communities and memory support care centers, to help them design safer senior spaces.
3. Themed wings
As dementia continues to ravish the mind, it becomes more and more difficult for a senior with cognitive impairment to remember landmarks. A senior may, for example, have trouble getting from a common area back to his or her room.
Some retirement communities are now encouraging “themed” wings, which are easier for residents to remember. Hallways and common areas are decorated according to a given theme, and residents in that wing are encouraged to decorate their apartments or rooms in keeping with it.
The act of decorating encourages consideration and decision-making. It also promotes coordination and memory preservation by stimulating the brain’s visual cortex and temporal lobe. The visual cortex is involved in hand-eye coordination and memory is thought to be encoded in the temporal lobe, which also decodes color and other visual stimuli.
A resident with dementia may not, for example, remember the details of a photograph hanging outside his or her apartment. But he or she may be able to remember that the hallway the apartment is in has a green “forest” theme, or a blue “ocean” theme. And that may be enough to aid in navigation to and fro.
4. Game sessions
You might not think that someone with advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s would be able to remember the rules of a game enough to play it.
But simple memory games, such as those on which the SAIDO Learning system is based, are now being used successfully by retirement communities like Marjorie P. Lee to preserve and fortify residents’ memories.
Episcopal Retirement Services is, in fact, one of the first retirement care providers in North America to have been certified to use SAIDO Learning as a memory support therapy. And, given its successful implementation here in Cincinnati, ERS is likely not to be the last provider to offer it to memory care residents.
Residential memory care today has done away with the institutional feel.
Here at ERS, in keeping with best practices, we develop our memory support therapies around our senior residents’ needs for person-centered, dignified care.
Is your senior loved one in need of memory support or residential memory care? We can help! Click here to learn more, then contact us and schedule your family’s visit.