With Alzheimer’s and other dementias on the rise, families need our help now more than ever.
To meet these needs, more facilities are opening—or expanding—to specialize in memory care. Theirs is an honorable mission, driven by society’s great need and caregivers’ dedicated passion.
And after many years of helping communities raise the standard of care for our loved ones, I can attest that care really is getting better for the people who need our help so much.
To keep the progress going, states are passing legislation to make sure that residents receive the best possible care and quality of life. Massachusetts, for example, has a regulation
in place that requires facilities to provide dementia-specific training for staff.
With the regulation, facilities that provide specialized care for residents with dementia are also required to have at least one therapeutic activities director on staff and to be person-centered with a focus on supporting residents’ visual, lighting, spatial, recreational, and safety needs.
These requirements fall into three categories. Similar to the Alzheimer’s Association’s Dementia Care Practice Recommendations, they set standards for training, activities, and environmental design.
Why dementia care standards are essential
A recent article got me thinking about dementia care standards, why they’re important, and how you can meet them—whether you’re compelled by law or you’re committed to your own mission to provide the best possible care.
Because there’s a lot you can do to be a leader in making life better for our loved ones. There’s a lot you can do to be the best guide for families throughout their dementia journey. And there’s a lot you can do to set your facility apart to provide the highest level of care that every person deserves.
High standards for training
High quality staff training benefits everyone: residents most importantly, and also families, caregivers, and organizations. The best training:
Begins with giving care partners an understanding of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Helps staff recognize the stages of dementia, which enable them to facilitate a person’s best ability to function throughout the course of the disease.
Teaches care partners what’s possible for each person in their care, how to uncover it, and how to make the most of each person’s remaining abilities.
Teaches care partners how to communicate and connect with residents, how to modify their approach to each person’s needs and abilities, how to handle the many challenges that arise every day, and how to turn those challenges into positive outcomes for everyone.
A person with Alzheimer’s/dementia does not have to suffer. Families, caregivers, and organizations do not have to be buried under stress.
To achieve this—to build what I call a Dementia-Capable Society—training needs to be reality-based, focusing on interactive exercises, case studies, role-plays, and group discussions. It also needs to be part of an ongoing process.
When these standards are met, residents enjoy more function, safety, and joy. Their quality of life improves dramatically. Caregivers feel more satisfied in their jobs, and families feel more trust in the care their loved ones receive.
High standards for activities
Truly engaging, person-centered activities are one of the most important components of a quality memory care program. The Massachusetts regulation, for example, requires that facilities have at least one therapeutic activities director on staff to:
Engage residents in meaningful, appropriate activities.
Ensure that activities are individualized and suited to residents.
Help improve or maintain residents’ abilities and functioning.
It can be difficult to get people with dementia interested in activities. Sometimes it’s even harder to keep residents engaged. To meet and even exceed standards like these, they key is to plan activities around a person’s lifelong interests and current cognitive ability.
Pursuing their true interests to the best of their ability at any stage helps residents feel a sense of purpose. Doing tasks, with as much assistance as necessary, that meet a person’s abilities helps them maximize their function and feel competent and fulfilled—no matter what stage of dementia they’re in. Sometimes these tasks are very small, and often they require a lot of assistance, but when you see the fulfillment that a sense of purpose brings to a person, you both feel the difference.
Our Life Story Questionnaire [PDF] is a great tool for identifying each resident’s preferences and interests. And once again, understanding the stages of dementia is essential, as is choosing the right tools for assessing a person’s remaining abilities.
When these standards are met, communities have happier residents, fewer behavioral situations, and more satisfied staff and families.
High standards for design
A pleasant environment that feels like home, reduces tension, and promotes safety is essential for everyone—especially people living with dementia.
But what does it really mean to have standards for your physical environment?
The Massachusetts legislation, for example, outlines a number of standards.
Among them are standards for outdoor and common space, noise control, safe windows and doors, lighting that reduces glare, visual contrasts to help residents navigate, and more.
Here’s my take on two of many essential components of a dementia-friendly environment:
Outdoor recreation space. Feeling sunshine, breathing fresh air, seeing trees, and smelling flowers is so vital to the soul. Every facility should have secured outdoor spaces and walkways that allow residents to ambulate. Whether a resident is in a wheelchair or can still walk, he or she should be able to enjoy the outdoors, with appropriate supervision and freedom from the danger of injury.
Common space. Being able to move freely is key to comfort. Residents should have access to all common areas, as well as assistive equipment that maximizes their independence. Decorations and furnishings should be pleasant and comfortable, and each person should have access to their preferred personal items based on their needs and likes.
When standards like these are met, residents are physically safer and more emotionally fulfilled—which is critical because how a person feels has everything to do with their behavior and their quality of life.
How can you meet these standards?
If you’re building or expanding a memory care community, you’ll want to meet standards like these whether your location has laws in place or not. If you’re in the field of memory care, you’re in it to make life better for every individual who’s affected by what can be—but does not have to be—a devastating disease.
These resources will help you set yourself apart as a leader in the best possible care:
Also be sure to grab our 5 Key Tips for Memory Care Success eBook (see below).
What you can do right now
With more than 13 million people expected to develop Alzheimer’s/dementia by the year 2050, we are facing an international health epidemic. I urge you—whether you run a community or you’re a family member or a staff member—to demand training, education, and the right supports and environments to meet the growing needs of our loved ones.
Give us a call and find out how Dementia Capable Care training and activities/design consulting can help you exceed standards and maximize residents’ function, safety, independence, and quality of life.
Together we can create a Dementia Capable Society where standards are high—and they’re met with passion, dedication, and loving kindness.
Photos: CPI, Ashton Manor