Care for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is specialized care, but it is also similar to assisted living and nursing home care. Depending on the severity and progression of symptoms, care may include in-home support and supervision, adult day care, assisted living, or residence in a specialized memory care unit.
Regardless of the type of care, someone living with one of these progressive brain conditions should be kept secure, safe, comfortable, and as active as possible while also being given necessary medical care. It requires a lot of care and supervision, which is why many families opt for residential care and memory care.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Memory
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease that cannot be reversed or cured. As it progresses, this disease causes memory to deteriorate, along with other cognitive skills. Eventually it gets to the point where a person with Alzheimer’s can no longer perform even simple tasks. An early-onset form of the disease begins to show signs between the ages of 30 and 60 but is rare. More commonly Alzheimer’s first causes symptoms in people in their 60s or older.
Dementia is a set of symptoms related to loss of cognitive function: memory loss, reasoning, and thinking. It is not an illness in itself. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Stroke is another potential cause of dementia. Regardless of cause, dementia is not uncommon in older adults, but it is also not normal and not a healthy or typical part of aging.
Treatment for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
A big part of care for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is supporting individuals who can no longer care for themselves. There are also treatments, although there is no cure for the disease or the symptoms of dementia. The goals of treatment for most patients are to manage symptoms, help maintain cognitive functions as much as possible, and to slow down the progression of the disease.
There are several approved medications for managing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, including those that directly target the causes of this disease. Patients may also benefit from other medications that specifically address symptoms like aggression, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Behavioral symptoms of dementia can also be treated with therapy, helping these patients manage aggression, anxiety, irritability, violence, and other destructive behaviors.
Support and Care for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
While treatment is important and can be helpful, another important part of care is providing support services. Someone with more than mild dementia cannot function fully independently. Care provides personal and support services for daily tasks, like cooking and cleaning, hygiene and personal care, assistance with medication, transportation, and other things the patient can no longer do or do safely.
Keeping these patients safe is another important part of care, as wandering, getting lost, falling, or having accidents while trying to drive, cook, or use tools are not uncommon occurrences with Alzheimer’s or dementia patients who do not have adequate support.
In-Home Care and Day Care for Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Informal care for someone with dementia symptoms is common. However, caring for a loved one getting progressively worse can be problematic. It can quickly become more than one, untrained person can manage. Patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s can even become angry, aggressive, violent, and abusive, becoming more than a family member can handle.
When this occurs, families may turn to one of many different types of care. Before the disease has progressed too far, in-home care or day care may be adequate. With in-home care the family can hire a home health care worker to come in a few hours a day, all day, or even for 24-hour care. An in-home caregiver may also be a nurse, but this is much more costly. To allow family members to go to work, adult day care is an option for care during the day at a facility outside the home.
Both in-home care and adult day care are largely non-skilled supportive types of care. Caregivers provide assistance with chores around the house and sometimes with personal care as well. They also provide security, making sure the patient does not wander or get lost. The same is true at day care, although this option allows for more social and other activities.
Assisted Living and Nursing Homes
For many people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, in-home care and day care are not adequate for long-term care. With symptoms that are progressive, eventually most people need to go to assisted living facilities, where they can be monitored and kept secure around the clock. More severe cases may require nursing homes, to provide 24-hour medical care and monitoring as well as support care and security.
Memory Care – Alzheimer’s Special Care Units
Many assisted living facilities and nursing homes now have special care units for Alzheimer’s and dementia, called memory care. This is a specialized type of assisted living that caters to patients with memory and cognitive problems. Staff members in memory care units are specially trained to work with these patients and there are likely to be more nurses on staff to provide needed medical assistance, such as the administration of medications.
The environment in memory care is also designed specifically with these patients in mind. Care is taken to make it soothing, comfortable, and to include security without making it feel like a prison. In many states, memory care is specifically regulated and professional organizations accredit these care units to ensure patients get the best and most qualified care. The requirements include things like access to behavioral therapies, appropriate and diverse activities, a safe environment, and specialized staff.
Selecting Care for a Loved One
Choosing the type of care and the facility or caregivers for a loved one struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s is a big decision. Unfortunately the person needing care is unlikely to be able to give much input, so make sure you have family to help you make the choice. Consider your loved one’s needs and limitations, your abilities as a caregiver, and whether or not residential care would be the safest and best option.
Once you have made that choice you can narrow your options down further, selecting caregiving services or facilities that meet your needs, that you can afford, and that are in the right location. Visit these locations and meet with staff, residents, and the families of residents to get a complete picture of the kind of care your loved one would receive. Look for good security, residents that look safe and content, a variety of activities, and caregivers who are qualified and engaged with patients.
Care for these special patients is important for their safety and well-being, and while family members may feel some guilt at sending loved ones to residential facilities, this is often where they can receive the best care. Be careful about your selection and monitor conditions regularly and your family member will be well cared for with symptoms managed and safety guaranteed.