From Grief to Compassion: The Changing Face of Alzheimer’s Care

Marie sits at a table in the dining room at the memory care center, reading the Washington Post and sipping some iced tea. She greets a visitor who enters with a big smile. She points out the view of a quiet tree-lined street beyond, visible through a wall of windows.

Marie makes conversation with the person passing by about the work she used to do and reminisces about her daughter and son, as if they were still children. The conversation lags a moment, and then Marie repeats what she has already said. Twice. Although Marie doesn’t seem to recall much, she certainly seems to be content.

Similar to Marie, other residents are good-natured and even witty, and often meet a visitor’s gaze directly. Some interact with passers-by, responding to warm greetings from staff; others do not. Some feed themselves; others cannot, and aides assist them. Pictures of residents attending events or on a recent field trip adorn a bulletin board on the wall.

This is what Alzheimer’s looks like from the outside looking in, especially in a place where memory care residents are treated with dignity and respect.

New Approaches to Alzheimer’s Care Focus on Dignity and Respect

Of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., Alzheimer’s is the only one that can’t be prevented or cured, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With seniors living longer and more instances of Alzheimer’s on the horizon, memory care in senior residences and at home is changing. The focus, experts say, has moved from coping with memory impairment to showing respect for the individual. The goal is to help families and professionals make an attitude adjustment, moving them from a place of grief to one of compassion.

New Practices in Alzheimer’s Care

Centers providing Alzheimer’s Care are dealing with the increasing numbers of those with the disease as best as they can and putting into practice some new trends in treating patients. The new focus is on making residents’ days better, rather than focusing on the memory impairment. Sometimes pets come to visit. Some days residents play instruments or sing. Here are some other patient-focused examples that are being used at memory care centers across the country, that you can replicate at home or suggest for a loved one:

Baking with residents: Once a week, one memory care unit bakes bread in a kitchen attached to the art room. Staff found that kneading bread is a sensory experience, and residents enjoy it.

Doing artwork: The therapeutic programming manager at the same facility leads patients in artwork made by rolling marbles on paper coated in paint. The center then proudly displays the residents’ marble paintings in the dining room. Structured art programs help to give people with dementia “good moments, good hours and good days,” according to Ruth Drew, director of family and information services for the Alzheimer’s Association. “When people are engaged and supported, they probably sleep better, are less anxious, less depressed. The experience carries over to the rest of the day.” And, as Drew puts it, the goal is “happy humans.”

A more flexible schedule: Structure and routine are necessary for those with Alzheimer’s, especially when it comes to medication and nutrition. One memory care unit emphasized that flexibility is also needed when person-centered care is the focus. At this particular facility, the staff tries to build an environment that is interesting and soothing at the same time, but sometimes changes things up by taking patients outside for a meal or incorporating appropriate new programming.

Unexpected surprises: One memory care center has an armoire in the hall with a sign directing residents to open the drawers, which are filled with scarves and hats. They enjoy the unexpected surprise of finding them and trying them on.

Smaller, more intimate dining areas: Most memory care units in senior residences have a communal dining room. At one senior home, caregivers are experimenting with another approach — setting up several kitchens and dining rooms in smaller, more intimate areas.

Enjoying time outside: One approach that has worked well is a garden unit, designed for residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. The unit includes an enclosed patio with trees, flowers and seating areas, and the staff reports that residents enjoy their time outdoors.

Getting to know patients and engaging them: One memory care facility gets to know patients — everything from their favorite colors to the names of their pets —and they engage them as well as their family members in conversations, family BBQs, and other engaging activities as much as they can.

Remember that quality of life matters, these individuals still matter, and every moment matters!

How Caregivers Can Treat Loved Ones with Dignity and Respect

For caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s, treat your aging loved one with Alzheimer’s as a capable adult. Here are a few ways you can do that:

1. Respect their sense of spirituality, the foods they prefer to eat, and the things they like to do.

2. Ask your loved one how he or she feels daily. What would make your loved one comfortable? Happy? Consider alternative ways of increasing their sense of self such as with music, art or pet therapy.

3. Show respect and patience. Speak kindly and compliment them genuinely and generously to increase their self-esteem.

4. Give them tasks they can accomplish to help maintain their self-worth. But don’t expect more from your aging loved one than they are capable of.

5. Answer questions patiently—no matter how many times you must repeat your answer.

6. Learn their daily patterns and routines and use them as a way to create a stable environment. This can help reduce confusion, sundowning, and aggression in seniors with Alzheimer’s.

7. Allow them to do as much as they can at any time. This may include bathing, feeding themselves, or light chores. Step in to help only when you see it’s needed. Research shows that allowing a person with Alzheimer’s to do as much as they can for themselves may delay the progression of the disease.

8. Listen to your loved one to learn what he or she needs.

Are You or a Loved One Suffering from Alzheimer’s?

At the Farr Law Firm, our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors and their families by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security.

One of the first steps to take is for the person with the dementia to sign a comprehensive General Power of Attorney with asset protection powers, and our comprehensive 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive™ which includes our proprietary Long-term Care Directive™, a document that allows the person with dementia to detail his or her dietary preferences, activity preferences, leisure activity preferences, hygiene and sleeping preferences, and so much more, all in an effort to preserve the dignity and quality-of-life of the person with dementia as explained in this article. The second step for most people is signing our Living Trust Plus® asset protection trust, which protects your assets from probate, plus lawsuits, plus Veterans Pension Benefits including Aid and Attendance (for wartime veterans or their living or surviving spouses), plus Medicaid for those needing nursing home care towards the end of the disease. The Farr Law Firm is dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. Using these legal documents, we help protect your family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, please call the Farr Law Firm as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Medicaid Planning Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Medicaid Planning Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Medicaid Planning Rockville: 301-519-8041
Medicaid Planning DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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