When a senior loved one’s dementia requires care and support that family members can’t safely provide at home, a memory care community might be the best solution. From a secure environment to dedicated dining and life enrichment activities, they are designed to help adults with dementia enjoy their best quality of life.
If you are unfamiliar with assisted living or memory care, it might be tough to figure out where to start. Making an informed decision requires asking the right questions and focusing on the core factors of quality care.
As you search for memory care communities, here are some tips for avoiding the most common mistakes.
Avoiding Mistakes in the Search for Memory Care
Mistake #1: Failing to tour the community
While online research and speaking with the community’s team by phone can help you narrow down your choices, you need to see the community in person. If local memory care communities are restricting visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ask them to arrange a virtual tour instead. That will at least give you an opportunity to look around and get a feel for the community.
Mistake #2: Making location the top priority
While it’s important for you to visit and check on your senior loved one easily, location shouldn’t be your top priority. Memory care is a unique program and finding a quality community might require you to travel a little farther. From community safety to caregiver qualifications, dining program, and life enrichment activities, there are other criteria of equal or greater importance.
Mistake #3: Failing to ask the right questions about caregivers
Dementia care is unlike other types of senior living. Team members who work with adults who have Alzheimer’s disease or a similar form of dementia need specialized training. Make sure you ask about what type of training dementia caregivers undergo and how often they attend continuing education programs.
Also ask what the ratio of residents to caregivers is and how long the average staff member has been on board. Both play a vital role in the quality and continuity of care.
Mistake #4: Not checking surveys, reviews, and references
Memory care communities typically fall under the umbrella of assisted living. As such, they are licensed at the state level. Each state sets their own rules and regulations for providers to follow. Surveys are routinely conducted to evaluate the community’s compliance. Most states publish survey results on the Department of Aging or Department of Health and Human Services website.
Be sure to read online reviews and seek input from your friends and colleagues. Feedback from someone you know and trust who has experience with the community is invaluable.
Memory Care at Heritage Senior Communities
At Heritage communities we call our specialized dementia care unit The Terrace. In a thoughtfully designed environment, we use a person-centered approach to meet the care needs of each resident. Visit the Specialized Memory Care section of our website for more details and a list of our dementia communities throughout Michigan!
When you notice changes in an aging parent’s memory, you might worry it is Alzheimer’s. For many people, it’s the only symptom they are familiar with. Others, such as a change in disposition or problems managing finances, can be red flags, too. But each of these can also be warning signs of a reversible medical condition, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency or an undetected infection.
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, early interventions may help slow progression of the disease. That’s why it’s important for a senior to see their physician when changes first begin to appear.
How Physicians Diagnose Alzheimer’s
People are often surprised to learn there is no single test that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, it is a process of identifying common symptoms of the disease and eliminating other potential causes.
If a physician suspects Alzheimer’s disease, they will usually complete the following tests to arrive at a diagnosis:
- Family and personal medical history: Your parent’s doctor will likely ask you to share the changes that concern you, so create a list before the first appointment. The doctor will also ask questions about the senior’s medical history and personal lifestyle factors. Diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, and smoking will likely be discussed.
- Physical examination: The physician will assess the senior’s mental and physical wellness. This usually includes checking blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, pulse, and reflexes. The doctor will assess cognitive abilities by asking the senior a series of questions or presenting them with problems to solve. They are designed to evaluate memory, judgment, attention span, reasoning, and language skills.
- Brain imaging: Brain scans are usually conducted. They help detect if the brain is shrinking, while also looking for other potential causes of the changes you’ve noticed in your parent. An aneurysm, tumor, nerve injury, or stroke can all be detected through brain imaging. These conditions can also cause symptoms that look like Alzheimer’s.
- Blood tests: To rule out other conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s, bloodwork will be performed. It can detect a thyroid problem, a urinary tract or other infection, or vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Depression evaluation: Depression is another illness that causes symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s. So much so, it is often referred to as pseudodementia. The physician will usually conduct a depression screening or refer the patient to a mental health expert for an assessment.
- Spinal tap: A process that has been used with success in European countries is collecting cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to identify biomarkers. It’s done through a spinal tap. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved it for use in this country.
Based on the results of these tests, the primary care doctor will determine if the symptoms are likely Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. If so, they may refer the patient to a neurologist for further follow-up. The tests might also identify a different medical condition that will require appropriate follow-up.
Leaders in Memory Care Services
At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand how difficult it can be to meet the needs of a loved one with memory impairments at home. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s disease or a different type of dementia, safety and quality of life are issues families worry about.
That’s why many of our assisted living centers have a dedicated unit focused on memory care called The Terrace. We invite you to call The Terrace program nearest you with questions about memory care or to schedule an in-person or virtual tour.
Caring for a senior who has Alzheimer’s disease can be rewarding. The hands-on role allows you to make a meaningful difference and provide emotional support. Taking your loved one to physician appointments, managing medications, and preparing meals help you feel confident they are receiving quality care.
The increasing demands of caregiving might make it tough to maintain your own mental and physical well-being. Back pain, headaches, stomach problems, and insomnia are a few of the most common medical issues caregivers report. Unfortunately, so are anxiety and depression.
Caregivers also experience guilt and fear wondering if they are meeting their loved one’s needs. This type of second-guessing can increase stress, something most caregivers already struggle to manage.
If this situation sounds familiar, it’s likely time to create a plan to regain a healthier sense of balance in your life. Here are a few steps you can take.
3 Ways to Restore Balance When You Are a Caregiver
- Take time off.
This might be tough for a dedicated caregiver, especially given the current coronavirus concerns. Taking regular breaks is essential for caregivers. Could another family member or friend stay with your senior loved one for a few hours each week? You will be a better caregiver if you are able to take time off on a regular basis.
If you don’t have anyone who can help, you might want to consider respite services through an in-home care agency. Depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in your area, your family member may be able to stay at a local memory care community a few days each month.
This has another benefit: allowing you to evaluate if the community is a good fit for your loved one should the need arise. Having a backup plan if you fall ill or are otherwise unable to care for your loved one can give you peace of mind.
- Connect with support.
Family members often feel a strong sense of duty when it comes to taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. The idea of turning a loved one’s care over to someone else isn’t easy, especially when they may have limited verbal skills and memory loss. Talking your challenges through with peers who can relate will help.
Alzheimer’s support groups are hosted in a variety of places ranging from local churches to area senior centers and libraries. Another safe option is to connect with an online caregiver support group. This article will help you learn more, including how to find an online group to join.
- Engage in nurturing activities.
Engage in activities that boost your spirit on a regular basis. While it may feel like a luxury, spending even short amounts of time on hobbies or tasks that bring peace will make you a better caregiver.
Enjoy a few laughs over lunch or on a video chat with a friend. Take an art class online. Plant an indoor or outdoor herb garden. Meditation, Tai Chi, and yoga are also good ways to connect with your spirit.
Call Heritage with Questions about Dementia Care
If you think the time has come to start exploring memory care communities in Michigan or Indiana, or if you have questions about dementia care in general, we’ll be happy to help. Call a Heritage specialized dementia community today!
Exercise is essential at every stage in life. While the amount and type of fitness activities you engage in might need to be modified as you grow older, exercising has many benefits. Those include helping people maintain a healthy weight, reducing anxiety, promoting better quality sleep, and boosting mood.
If you or a loved one has dementia, exercise also offers additional benefits for the body and mind. Early- to mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease, for example, often causes low energy, problems with coordination, balance issues, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Regular exercise helps combat the negative impact of each.
The Therapeutic Value of Exercise
According to WebMD, “repetitive exercises such as walking, indoor bicycling, and even tasks such as folding laundry may lower anxiety in people with the disease because they don’t have to make decisions or remember what to do next. They also can feel good knowing that they’ve accomplished something when they’re finished.”
Research from the Wake Forest School of Medicine highlights even more benefits. They found that physical activity also has a positive impact on the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Those enrolled in the trial had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or diabetes, which is thought to raise the risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Some participants worked out at community gyms for an hour of aerobic activity or stretching exercise four times a week for six months. All were supervised during these activities.
At the end of the study, researchers had determined that “exercisers had better blood flow in the memory and processing centers of their brains and had measurable improvement in attention, planning, and organizing abilities referred to as executive function.”
If you are the family caregiver or adult child of a senior with dementia, you might be wondering what type of exercises are best. We have a few suggestions for you to review with your loved one’s primary care physician.
4 Safe Exercises for Adults with Dementia
- Walking: Walking 30 minutes a day is good for most adults with dementia. Finding a safe and scenic place where you can walk together can give you both a mental and physical boost. If 30 minutes is too much to start, break it up into several mini-sessions a day instead. You might feel safer if you purchase a GPS tracking device for your loved one to wear when you are walking outdoors.
- Practicing chair yoga: The combination of stretching and breathing exercises at the core of yoga is great for improving flexibility, coordination, balance, and relaxation. For adults with dementia, chair yoga might be an option. Through a series of yoga poses performed from a seated position, participants can feel successful while also reaping the health benefits of yoga. It’s also been proven to improve balance for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Pedaling on a recumbent bike: Simple, repetitive movements are ideal for people living with memory impairment. A recumbent bike is usually safest. In addition to the ease of the motion, riding a bike gets the heart pumping and muscles working.
- Weights or resistance bands: Weight training helps keep muscles strong and joints limber. It also combats bone loss as you grow older. Lifting weights and using resistance bands are two ways people with dementia can do that. People with dementia should lift weights only under supervision.
Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage
At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand the value of exercise for residents in independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Our communities offer daily fitness opportunities ranging from stretching classes to bocce ball. For more information on specialized dementia care, please call the Heritage community nearest you today!
A common challenge Alzheimer’s caregivers face is getting their loved one to eat. Alzheimer’s can lead to an unhealthy amount of weight loss. There are steps you can take to make mealtimes go a little smoother. Creating a calm, distraction-free environment is one. So is setting the table with dinnerware and placemats in contrasting colors to make food easier to distinguish on the plate.
Another technique that may encourage a senior to eat more is serving healthy finger foods. They don’t require silverware that older adults may have difficulty manipulating. Finger foods are also easier to independently consume, even while wandering around the house.
We’ve assembled a variety of recipes to help you get started.
Guide to Healthy Finger Foods for Seniors with Alzheimer’s
Keeping meals healthy but simple and limiting the number of foods on the plate is better for seniors with Alzheimer’s. These choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner fit that description.
- Whole grain toast with peanut butter
- French toast sticks
- Yogurt or cereal bar
- Hard-boiled egg
- Sausage links or patties
- English muffin topped with an egg, cheese, or ham slice
While technically not a finger food, fruit smoothies are another good choice. You can make them with yogurt, pureed fruit, and a scoop of protein powder for an extra boost.
Options for Lunch or Dinner:
- Chicken tenders: This is easy to prepare as grocery stores offer a variety of ready-made options. Most only need to be heated up before serving. Opt for grilled or baked tenders instead of fried. You can serve them with a dip, like ranch or honey mustard, for extra flavor.
- Cup of soup: Another idea is to serve your senior loved one soup in a covered mug. They can sip it at their leisure from wherever they wander during mealtime. You can buy pre-made bone broth if you don’t have time to make your own. Bone broth is packed with nutrients and vitamins. “20 Delicious (and Wholesome) Bone Broth Soup Recipes” has some great options.
- Small sandwiches: Another idea is to make a sandwich and cut it into smaller pieces. Turkey with bacon and cheese, chicken salad with fresh pineapple bits, grilled cheese, and tuna salad all have protein and other essential vitamins and minerals. Add fiber by serving it on multigrain bread with lettuce.
- Antipasto: Make your own antipasto salad with cheese, meats, tomatoes, red pepper, garbanzo beans, and more. Add anything the senior likes and can pick up to eat on their own. Drizzle it with lemon vinaigrette for a bump in taste.
- Sliced fruit and vegetables: Keep a plate of fresh fruits and vegetables out for your loved one to eat at mealtime or as a snack. Be cautious of foods known for presenting a choking hazard, such as carrots or grapes. Serving foods in a rainbow of colors is not only good for their health, but also more visually appealing. That could entice them to eat more.
We hope this information gives you some meal ideas for your senior loved one. If you are looking for more ways to encourage your loved one to participate at mealtime, “What to Do When a Senior with Alzheimer’s Won’t Eat” might be of interest.
Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities
If you’ve been contemplating dementia care for your loved one and you live in Michigan or Indiana, we hope you will consider a Heritage community. Our specialized memory care program is designed to meet the unique needs of each resident. Call us today to learn more!
My grandparents live about six hours away from me. We’ve suspected my grandfather was having health issues, but never imagined it would be Alzheimer’s. While relatives visit them almost every month, we never noticed signs of Alzheimer’s.
A few weeks ago, my grandfather became lost while walking the dog. It was terrifying for my grandmother and led to his recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
My family and I are trying to learn all we can about the disease. I’m especially seeking advice on how to discuss this with my children. Do you have any suggestions?
Alzheimer’s Disease Resources and Tools
While some people with Alzheimer’s exhibit the classic sign of forgetfulness early, the symptoms can be more subtle in others. They might include withdrawing from social activities or making mistakes with finances. Then a major event occurs, like your grandfather becoming lost, and the disease becomes more obvious.
You are on the right track in trying to learn about the disease. It will teach you how to support your grandfather now and in the future. Fortunately, resources and tools are much more readily available than in the past.
Visit these sites to read and learn more about Alzheimer’s disease:
- What is Alzheimer’s Disease?: The Alzheimer’s Association created this very comprehensive online resource. It covers everything from symptoms to disease progression and research.
- Inside the Brain: If you like to know the “why” behind everything in life, this brain tour will be of interest. It starts with a detailed explanation of how the brain works and moves on to how Alzheimer’s impacts brain function.
- Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet: Created by the National Institute on Aging, this fact sheet is actually a series of links to useful articles. Topics include clinical trials, treatment, and caregiver support.
Finally, I encourage you to bookmark and follow the Heritage blog. We regularly publish articles like Talking with Kids about Alzheimer’s Disease and Activities for Kids to Do with a Grandparent Who Has Alzheimer’s Disease.
I hope these resources are useful, Alyssa! Feel free to call any of the Heritage Senior Communities if you have any questions about Alzheimer’s disease or memory care. One of our experienced memory care team members will be happy to assist you.
Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities
Family owned for four generations, Heritage Senior Communities is a respected name in dementia care services. With communities throughout Michigan, we encourage you to visit Specialized Dementia Care to learn more about our unique approach to caring for adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.