One of the questions that often comes up in our discussions with families is the difference between assisted living and memory care. Often, people will wonder why their loved one with dementia, who is very able bodied, cannot reside in traditional assisted living. Even assisted-living communities will often say that they can handle varying degrees of dementia as long as the patient is not an elopement risk. This can be a tricky area to navigate and the answer is not always clear. I hope you will allow me to share with you some of my thoughts and feelings on this issue that are guided by my experience and training.
At some level, dementia patients know and understand that they are not like ‘everyone else’. They often feel ‘less than’ because they cannot keep up with rapid discussions, they cannot come up with quick answers to questions and often feel ‘lost’ while playing games or participating in group activities. This can result in a couple of different things occuring; the person with dementia will withdraw socially for fear of being ostracized or in an attempt at self-preservation, or at times, the patient is criticized or even made fun of for not knowing the answer to questions or not keeping pace with the conversation and they subsequently self-isolate. Often it is the combination of these factors that lead to them withdrawing from a myriad of social settings. Social isolation can certainly lead to a worsening of dementia symptoms as well as contribute to depression and weaken immunity.
The fact of the matter, however, is that people with dementia need a different style of care that caters directly to them and their specific needs. In a memory support community, everything from the way the community is constructed, to the meals, activities and outdoor space is specifically designed with the dementia resident in mind. Staff is trained differently and a higher staff to patient ratio is maintained. Absolutely no one is expected to remember when meal time occurs, where the dining room is or whether or not they’ve had a shower that day. And maybe most importantly, no one is made to feel ‘less than’ if they do not. What has been lost due to dementia is not the focus. Rather what they are still able to do is celebrated. Activities are centered around what the dementia patient needs. They need to stimulate all five senses. They need to move their bodies, exercise their minds and feel that they have a purpose. Yes! People with dementia are still able to serve others. In some communities I’ve seen the residents stuffing backpacks for underserved children, making holiday cards to send to the military and entertaining children from local daycares and elementary schools.
While living in traditional assisted living communities can work just fine if the individual is in the very early stages of dementia or if they have resided in that community for a significant length of time, it is important to speak with professionals who understand the complexity of the issue. This certainly is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ issue and each unique individual and their disease process must be looked at independently. Oasis Senior Advisors is equipped to do just that. If you are wondering what the best fit is for your loved one, we would be more than happy to speak with you. Our services are free and available to you for the asking.