A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia can be devastating but supporting a loved one who has been diagnosed with compassion and informed decision-making is the greatest service a family or life partner can provide. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease for which there is of yet, no cure. At some point in a person’s Alzheimer’s journey, specialized care will be required for a variety of reasons, but often times the primary concern is because your family member is no longer safe at home. This can happen no matter what precautions one has taken to provide an Alzheimer’s friendly home.
The Caregivers Disease – don’t wait until there’s a crisis
Alzheimer’s is often called the “caregivers disease” because of the tremendous burden experienced by the primary caregiver who often experiences chronic sleep deprivation and other stress related health concerns. Many people put off doing their research until there is some type of crisis either with the caregiver or the person with Alzheimer’s requiring greater care than what can be provided at home. In choosing Alzheimer’s care, it is imperative that one begin the research process before help is needed. By researching ahead of need, you can make a better decision when the time comes.
What can I do now?
What tools do you need to make an informed decision and how should you go about it?
First, understand that the very best facilities are solely dedicated to providing “Memory Care”. In RI, Memory Care Assisted Living Residences have a special license issued by the Department of Health for “Special Care. There are many requirements to achieve this level of licensure but to name a few: the Residence has been designed to provide a secure environment appropriate for the resident population, as well as staffing, training and therapeutic activities appropriate for it’s residents. A select few have an additional level of licensure called the Limited Health Services License which allows them to provide an extra layer of medical care.
Continuum of Care
Different people require different levels of care. Most people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia will be appropriate for Memory Care Assisted Living, but there are those who are considered medically complex who may require a higher level of care. Try and find a Memory Care Assisted Living Residence that offers both the limited health services license as well as a continuum of care to Skilled Nursing if needed.
Word of mouth can be a source of credible information. The Internet can be helpful but also contains an overwhelming cacophony of information. Take your search past the first page and dig deep. Review websites, consumer feedback and other available information. Stay away from websites that promise to refer you to properties. Many of them charge a fee to the facility in exchange for the referral and you are likely to find just as much information on your own. Once you see a few that you like and have examined their websites, look for a Facebook page and examine the content to get a feel for the place. Make a list of your top five places that you want to look at. Be willing to travel a further distance in certain instances for the best care. Call each place and arrange a visit. Some advisors will recommend that you show up unannounced however; you are taking a chance of not being able to meet with the person best equipped to help you making it more difficult to obtain information you need resulting in a second trip.
While visiting the Residence, look around- not just at the existing Residents and the physical environment, but also at the staff. Ask what features of the residence have been designed specific to a person with Alzheimer’s. Ask about the Activity Program. Request a dining menu. Talk with your tour guide about challenges they have faced in the past and how they work with families to resolve them. Do you feel comfortable with the residence and the people you’ve met? Are they the kind of people you know you’ll be able to speak with if there’s ever a problem? During your visit, be sure to ask about the facility’s compliance with sanitation and infection control in the age of COVID.
Once you’ve made a decision about the right place for your family member or beloved partner, speak with the admission team and create a transition plan. You’ll imagine the worst, and you will most likely be pleasantly surprised how well your loved one responds when they move to a specialized Alzheimer’s residence. The beauty is that they will be in a secure environment and well cared for. Your stress level will subside because once you find the right place, you can take a deep breath, leave the role of caregiver behind and again resume the role of husband, wife, partner, brother, sister, daughter, son, friend.