Alzheimer's Assisted Living Options: What's Best for Your Loved One

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alzheimer’s assisted living options

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be scary and overwhelming for families. And if you have a parent or loved one who has Alzheimer’s, the reality is that you and other family members and friends will be making decisions related to the necessary care your loved one’s needs...

The physical and mental demands of an individual with Alzheimer’s can be complicated, exhausting and at times challenging. This does not mean that you are an inadequate caregiver or that you aren’t doing enough— it is simply a reality of the disease process. In some instances, you may come to the decision that trained care is simply the best way to ensure your loved one has the support and care that they need as a result of living with Alzheimer’s.

Deciding what type of environment would be best depends on your parent’s condition as well as on personal preferences. Alzheimer’s impacts each individual uniquely, and there are several options available to you when it comes to seeking outside care for this type of disease.  

The first signs of dementia are often subtle. Learn what to watch for in our  free guide.

In the early stages, it is common for families to keep their loved one at home, in surroundings that are familiar. As the disease progresses and their needs change, you may start considering other residential options.  

The Different Types of Care

Each of the settings listed below has its benefits. Take each one into careful consideration while keeping your loved one and other family members in mind. 

Retirement Housing/Independent Living: Older adults with a diagnosis of dementia can be successful in an independent living community as long as they are able to self-navigate throughout the day. Being oriented to day, time and place will be needed to navigate the day - getting to dining and engagement venues, appointments and social interactions without reminders. These communities also often offer social engagements and assistance with transportation. You may even be able to find an independent living community that offers transitional care as your loved one’s disease progresses. 

Assisted Living: Assisted living communities fall in between retirement housing and the more intensive care of a nursing home. They tend to focus on the environment and provide extra amenities and perks such as salons, fitness centers, and engagement. Each person is still able to maintain independence while given the wide array of exceptional dining, healthcare, transportation support, housekeeping, and any other assistance he or she may require. Depending on the community you choose, there may also be upscale and innovative options for social and intellectual enrichment. For older adults living with dementia, additional support is provided to help them navigate through their days. Team members provide reminders and escorts to meals and activities to ensure that every person actively participates in everything the community has to offer.

Nursing Homes: Nursing homes take the “assisted” in senior living to the next level with round-the-clock medical care and supervision. The staff will meet with you and your family to learn about your loved one and make a plan for specific needs, nutritional requirements, and any other individual concerns you might have (such as spiritual or recreational). Oftentimes the staff at a nursing home specializes in dementia care, as these facilities are usually licensed by the state and monitored by the federal government.

Memory Care or Alzheimer’s Special Care Units: Memory care SCUs (special care units) are specifically designed for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Each care unit is designed a bit differently and has its own personality, but the general idea remains the same. The staff is trained extensively on the various needs of people with dementia in all stages. The programs provided at these locations take very careful safety measures, such as secured exits and signs to direct the residents around the area. But memory care features should not end with safety and security. Residents living within the memory care neighborhood should enjoy the same opportunity to pursue their lifestyle in an environment that mirrors independent and assisted living amenities and choices.

What Your Care Environment Should Include

When you are choosing a care environment for your loved one, use this checklist to help assess the living space amenities, lifestyle, and care options provided. The ideal residence will include, but will not be limited to, the features listed below:

First impressions

The neighborhood is brightly lit, warm and inviting
No odors
The environment mirrors that of independent and assisted living areas of the community 

Amenities

Common areas should feature a variety of purposeful spaces for the residents to enjoy, such as: 

Art studio
Hair salon
Accessible kitchen
Beautiful dining
Outdoor patios
Walking paths
Yoga studio and fitness area

Engagement

Residents are actively engaged in group or one-on-one activities that are adult in nature
Be aware of red flags such as residents sleeping on sofas and chairs or watching television
Watch the interactions between staff and residents
Visiting times are flexible and work for the entire family. 

Dining

The dining experience and food choices should mirror assisted and independent living areas of the community
Table settings, linens and presentation of plated options should be included in the program
Visit during meal time to observe the dining experience
There should be a kitchen stocked with snacks, beverages and ingredients to make simple meals such as grilled cheese and eggs
Residents should have access to snacks and beverages in the kitchen 

Leadership

Ideally there will be a dedicated leader responsible for the program, staffing, training and engagement. Usually this person has either a social work or nursing background. 
The staff treats each person as an individual and recognizes specific needs, abilities, and interests.
Ask about staffing and training and find out if the staff in the memory care neighborhood is dedicated to this program, or if they rotate staff throughout the community.
Families are welcome and encouraged to be extensively involved in advocating for their loved one.
The staff treats each person as an individual and recognizes specific needs, abilities, and interests.
The staff is trained specifically in dementia care.
Transportation is provided for medical appointments, time with friends and family, and other activities that your loved one normally takes part in.

Making the Transition

Making this move will likely be a pretty big adjustment for your loved one, as well as the rest of the family. Remember that it will take some time to get used to this new way of life, but trust that the decision you made is the right one. Expect that it may take time for your loved one to adjust, but work closely with the team to ensure that over time your loved one is comfortable. Visit as often as you feel comfortable doing and try over time to enjoy the visits.   

caregiver's checklist

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