Over the past two decades, senior healthcare has begun to provide specialized memory support to seniors with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, or other dementia-type disorders. Oftentimes, a retirement community will staff a separate, highly trained unit specifically designed to provide memory care.
Memory support units typically feature a higher staff-to-resident ratio and are less noisy or stimulating.
The idea is that seniors with dementia will see improved outcomes if they can receive more intensive support and are not placed in environments that can be over-stimulating and thus overwhelming.
Studies of such memory support units have found encouraging results.
Seniors in retirement homes with dementia care units are less likely to be hospitalized.
A 2007 study, published in The Gerontologist, by researchers at Brown University found that a senior living in a retirement community with a specialized care unit, like a memory support ward, is less likely to be admitted to the hospital.
The study found that such facilities are often better equipped and better able to proactively intervene in the event of a downturn in a senior's health.
It's easy to understand why.
A retirement community that is willing to invest in specialized areas of eldercare are more likely to have the resources to support more staff and better medical technology. Skilled nursing care providers that can do more to improve eldercare up front will be in a better position to deal with medical crises as they arise.
Seniors in memory support units report having a better quality of life.
Seniors in specialized memory support units aren't just seeing benefits in their medical outcomes—they're also more likely to report having a better overall quality of life.
Not too far away from us here in Cincinnati, researchers at Western Kentucky University compared the quality of life for seniors in specialized memory care units versus cognitive disorder seniors in a general nursing care environment.
Seniors in specialized care units reported higher quality of life than seniors in regular units in the areas of comfort, privacy, autonomy and meaningful activities.
Although the study noted that there was significant variance in mood, depending on the stage of seniors' dementia, the findings do indicate that there are probably positive effects derived from providing more personalized care to people suffering from memory loss.
Have a plan for memory support care.
If you know a senior who has recently been diagnosed with memory loss, talk with them about starting to plan for the future now. Dementia is a progressive disorder; prompt intervention may be possible to slow its advance, but dementia is also an unforgiving disease, so time is of the essence.
A clear advance directive (or living will) and power of attorney on file will ensure that your loved one can receive the skilled nursing care that they deserve.
Offer to tour retirement communities in Cincinnati with them. Ensure that a community has a skilled nursing staff that specializes in memory support by asking the following questions:
- What is your resident-to-staff ratio? A good provider will have a have fewer residents per staff member. You want to find a provider who can give you the most individual attention and recognize your needs quickly.
- What is your hospitalization rate? A facility with a relatively high hospitalization rate may be facing staffing shortages, equipment deficiencies or lack procedures and policies that allow them to intervene before an acute care stay becomes necessary. Find a provider that specializes in providing proactive care.
- Do you provide specialized care units for memory support? In the initial stages of dementia, it may be perfectly okay to receive generalized care, but as cognitive impairment develops and progresses, you'll want to make sure that a facility is ready and able to handle your specialized care needs.
- What social activities or amenities do you provide to cater to residents with memory care needs? A senior with dementia benefits from socialization, physical and mental exercise. Make sure your care provider can serve these needs in a safe, well-monitored but non-intrusive environment.
If you’re looking for memory support in Cincinnati, check out our eldercare guide to see what ERH offers.