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How Memory Care Is Reinventing Assisted Living

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenNovember 15, 2013

Making the decision to move a loved one to a memory care community can be heart wrenching. But knowing that your loved one has the expert care they need—that you may not be able to provide—makes a difference. And these days, memory care offers more than assisted living; it offers improved quality of life with state-of-the-art construction catered to Alzheimer’s residents, as well as, excellent amenities and a plethora of activities.

How Memory Care Reinvents Assisted LivingJust the thought of moving a loved one to assisted living is enough to bring tears to your eyes. It’s emotional. It symbolizes the end of independence and the beginning of the end of someone’s life. This is how the every day America thinks. In fact, to many, assisted living and nursing homes represent the institutional, white-walled environment where all the residents are medicated and not really living. It’s where you go when you have nobody else to take care of you, where you go to get old and decrepit. But the truth is; the vast majority of our fears of senior living are inaccurate. And memory care has completely reinvented senior care.

What Does Memory Care Offer?

Many of today’s assisted living communities offer socialization, gourmet meals, planned activities and cutting-edge amenities. And memory care offers all of this, as well as, a living environment catered to those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. From recreational and social events to wander paths and guards to secured properties and senior clubs, memory care has reinvented assisted living. Many dementia residents have been able to also better regulate their medication/s and learn to walk again. Silverado Senior Living CEO, Loren Shook comments:

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“Dementia patients are typically over-medicated. Because of Silverado’s program and their philsophy of giving freedom to live and freedom of choices, with the support of 24-7, licensed nurses and highly trained caregiving staff, we’re often able to reduce medications. And, in many instances, residents come to Silverado unable to walk. Silverado provides physical therapy, encouragement and treatments that enable more than 4,000 residents to walk again; a huge gain in quality of life freedom. In fact, some family members think loved ones have been cured.”

In addition to offering expert dementia care, many memory care facilities these days also offer resort living that caters to dementia sufferers; a sort of juxtaposition of human innovation and the mind’s deterioration to create an ambiance fit for someone living in their own hallucinations and past. De Hogeweyk in Amsterdam is one such example. The founders of this cutting-edge dementia program made the villages a place where “people want to be,” according to Eloy Van Hal, a facility manager. There are no locks and residents come and go as they please, enjoying cafes, the theater, and socialization through community events and clubs.

But what exactly is happening with memory care in the United States? Read on to learn why memory care is vastly expanding and how it offers not only skillful care, but also improved quality of life for many dementia sufferers.

Memory Care Development Booming Across America

The statistics are staggering:  There are 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, including one in eight older Americans—and that statistic is expected to more than double in the next 40 years. Alzheimer’s is also the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

With this “Silver Tsunami” of aging baby boomers, the senior care industry is breaking ground on many memory care communities to support the demand. In fact, according to Senior Housing News, “Development activity for memory care is far outpacing that of other senior living sectors, but oversupply isn’t a concern considering the concentration of projects in a few hot markets and staggering upcoming demand.”

There is literally not nearly enough supply for the memory care demand. For example, the existing memory care inventory numbers are less than 75,500 in the top 100 metro areas tracked by the National Investment Center (NIC) for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry, which is why developers are gearing up for the market’s demand. In fact, there are just under 49,000 memory care units undergoing construction in 2013. Chris McGraw, a senior research analyst at NIC discusses some of this growth: “Freestanding memory care [in particular] does have quite a bit of construction and it’s grown very rapidly because one, they’re starting a fair number of units, and two, because there aren’t a lot of existing units.”

Daily Memory Care Inquiries and Demand For Care from Families

A Place for Mom saw a 35% increase in seniors moving into memory care settings over the past two years.  This is because families want to find good care for their loved ones when they no longer have the resources and expertise that is involved with dementia care.  Michelle Egerer, Regional Vice President at Silverado Senior Living, feels passionate about the services her company offers not only to seniors, but also to their families.

“What Silverado wants to do is change the world in the way in which memory care services are provided to those who suffer from various memory care impairments. We want to give life to residents—to be able to give families a peace of mind and understanding that there is a life for their loved one with the special care and special services Silverado provides.”

Michelle feels that Silverado’s 24-hour nursing care and engaging programs that promote individuality and socialization benefit dementia suffers and provide more peace of mind for their families.

But what makes memory care so unique? In addition to social activities, a pleasing ambiance and fun amenities, memory care treatment programs often feature:

  • A secure environment, while allowing healthy wandering
  • A low staff-to-resident ratio
  • Sensory-based programming
  • Color-coded hallways and design features to facilitate easy navigation and reduce anxiety for residents
  • The ability to accommodate residents in the early, middle and late stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia
Beverly Sanborn, Vice President of Program Development at Belmont Village Senior Living, discusses why her company is expanding their dementia care and memory care housing and services.
“The memory care programming is moving from the leisure model to the therapeutic model. By offering more than just enjoyment and socializing—by also including goals for the wide-range of programs you offer that are both measurable and track-able, an improved level-of-care is being seen.” Beverly continues to discuss how memory care has much to offer seniors and their families as far as catered programs, specialists and even buildings designed to deal with wandering and memory care impairment. “In a full-scale memory care program, the goal is for the resident to function at the highest possible level and to maintain that level for as long as possible. If you provide mental, physical and nutritional health at optimal level, you should be able to improve mental acuity for at least a 6 month period. This is very positive for the sense of well-being for the resident, as well as, being gratifying for the family.”

Read more about why memory care is the fastest growing segment of senior care.

National Memory Screening Day – November 19th!

While the nation is beginning to prepare for an aging population with many state-of-the-art memory care programs and communities, it is important to stay apprised of how you can help the fight against Alzheimer’s. Join the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative and learn more about the latest research and trends in Alzheimer’s awareness. And National Memory Screening Day is next Tuesday, Nov. 19so consider the screening for yourself or a loved one as early detection and treatment are important.

Do you think the nation will find a cure for Alzheimer’s by 2025? We welcome your comments below.

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Dana Larsen
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