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A holistic approach to late-stage dementia

Memory support: Third in a three-part series

Created date

October 23rd, 2012

When someone reaches the later stages of a dementia-related illness such as Alzheimer s disease, caring for them can be too much for one person, even if others pitch in. People with dementia tend to lose their ability to function in a certain progression, although there may be individual differences, says Joel D. Posner, M.D., medical director at Grove, an Erickson Living community in Glen Mills, Pa. First is the inability to do independent daily living activities such as driving, paying bills, or taking medications. After that, essential daily functions such as eating, bathing, or using the bathroom independently become very difficult. This loss of function happens at different rates for different people, but in some instances, it can occur very quickly. Before your loved one reaches the point of needing full-time care, you need to have a firm plan in place. That s where Memory Care comes in.

Memory Support for life

Memory Care is the third component of Erickson Living s comprehensive Memory Support program, which is being rolled out at all Erickson Living communities. Memory Fitness, the first component, is designed for people who want to keep their memory sharp; Memory Health is for people who have early to moderate dementia-related diseases; and Memory Care is for people in the later stages who need the most support. Unlike Memory Fitness and Memory Health, which are essentially virtual programs, Memory Care is a designated neighborhood on the Erickson Living campus, says Margaret Stewart, D.H.A., senior director of health services clinical programming for Living. Depending on where they are in the dementia process, however, residents can participate in parts of Memory Care no matter where they live in the community. Like Memory Fitness and Memory Health, there are three dimensions to Memory Care a specially-designed dedicated neighborhood, guided care, and structured programs. All aspects of the three dimensions are based on research-based evidence that has demonstrated positive benefits for dementia sufferers, Stewart says.

A neighborhood designed for dementia care

The Memory Care neighborhood has individual rooms for residents, large common areas, safe areas to walk outside, and is laid out to help residents find their way around, promoting autonomy. We use themes, colors, and symbols to designate certain areas, Stewart says. There are focal points and brightly colored signs that use words and pictures to convey the intent of the area being traveled to. This type of assistance helps residents feel a sense of safety and security, and it also gives them a sense of independence. The manner in which the colors blue, red, and green are used throughout the neighborhood is purposeful, Stewart continues. Research shows that blue and green have calming effects, and red stimulates brain activity. Memory stations are located at various points around the neighborhood. These are self-directed activity areas focused on the specific interests of residents, Stewart says. They may be set up as workshops, sewing rooms, gardening areas, or provide other activities that a resident enjoys. We continually evaluate the physical environment of Memory Care so that it stays current and relevant for residents.

Care with a focus on personal preferences

Certified nursing aides with special training accompany residents throughout the day. These highly trained caregivers know the life histories and current abilities of residents, and help assist them with essential daily functions. They also offer guidance and support in specific activities that residents take pleasure in, Stewart says. To help individuals establish a daily routine, structured activities are available seven days a week. Trained staff lead a variety of programs designed to stimulate the brain and provide recreation such as board games, exercise, poetry readings, and pet visits, Stewart says. The activity calendar is not set in stone; it changes based on what residents enjoy most. Group activities are designed to foster a sense of community and improve someone s quality of life, Posner says. Even some people who are fairly advanced in their disease process show improvement when they are a part of a group setting. When someone is in Memory Care, medical management continues to be a vital part of their care. We continue to monitor residents memory function through formal testing, Posner says. The goal of medical management in late stages of dementia is to keep people comfortable and as physically healthy as possible. We continue to take care of medical conditions and treat health crises if they occur. In Memory Care, our residents receive a focused level of care specific to their disease process, Stewart says. Our hope is to keep people comfortable and able to experience life in a pleasant way for as long as possible.