Unique approaches to memory care, including careful design of interior spaces and the use of alternative therapies, can foster independence and stimulate memory in people with dementia. Learn more about some unique memory care therapies helping those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in assisted living communities.
We read a lot about ergonomics and well-being in the workplace and in the home, but what about for those in memory care or assisted living?
People with Alzheimer’s or dementia face unique challenges when it comes to interacting with their surroundings, not only because of cognitive impairment, but also due to sensory and perceptual changes. They may feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments, they may become distracted in visually overstimulating environments, and they may have a reduced tolerance for sound or background noise. Often, they “have difficulty seeing handrails, toilet seats or doors, or the food on their plate, if these are the same colour as the background,” notes The King’s Fund, a UK charity helping develop supportive design for people with dementia.
Designing an environment that encourages calm, safety and independence is critical to day-to-day quality of life for seniors who suffer from dementia. More and more assisted living communities in the UK and the U.S. are taking this to heart, and offering memory care therapies that alleviate stress, stimulate memories and foster a safe living environment for residents. This could range from aromatherapy boxes, to art therapy and other complementary therapies, or to more practical design solutions like hazard-free outdoor landscapes and walking paths that accommodate wandering and pacing behavior.
Assisted living communities are beginning to incorporate some unique forms of memory care therapy that are truly remarkable. Here are a few examples:
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1. Using color and visual techniques to help the senior with everyday activities.
At Aegis Living of Kent, WA., simple changes, like placing toilets in front of a colored wall to make them easier to see, and using color-ringed plates and cups, help seniors succeed in their activities of daily life with more ease and independence.
2. Aromatherapy to increase relaxation and reduce difficult behaviors.
Studies suggest that soothing scents like lavender can help improve mood, reduce anxiety and agitation, and promote sleep in individuals with dementia. Of course, the effects can be positive for staff and caregivers, too. Aegis Living of Lynnwood, WA., uses a proprietary aromatherapy blend which, according to Marketing Director Janaira Stokes, is designed to be “undetectable while enhancing the day-to-day experience of our Aegis residents, families and employees, playing an important role in the Aegis mission to “Make Life Better.”
3. Using architectural and interior design elements to promote comfort, safety and dignity.
Aegis of Kent is designed as an open concept community, yet each corner makes a “neighborhood” with distinct decor and theme, and shared rooms are designed to feel as if residents have total privacy. Having distinctive “areas” and walking paths helps people with dementia navigate the community. Also, memory care neighborhoods are generally smaller, being designed and decorated with a home-like feel — Aegis of Lynnwood uses era-specific music and memorabilia, for instance. Exit doors are decorated with murals to distract residents from exiting the neighborhood — and they’re equipped with an alarm to notify staff.
4. Light therapy to help alleviate symptoms of dementia.
“Daily exposure to a specific light spectrum decreases agitation, symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression as well as slows the cognitive decline for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia,” says Stokes, of Aegis of Lynnwood. Their “Life Enhancing Light Therapy Program” helps regulate residents’ circadian rhythms by providing dawn simulators inside individual apartments as well as adjusting light levels in the community throughout the day. The program also encourages residents to get natural light outdoors, using transparent umbrellas on rainy days.
5. Using sensory stimulation to enhance memory.
It’s well known that smells can trigger long-forgotten memories. Many assisted living communities are using not only the sense of smell, but also taste, sound and vision as a unique form of memory care therapy to help residents with dementia. Memory boxes containing photos, mementos and other cherished items are one popular option — not only do they help stimulate memories, when placed outside of people’s bedrooms, they can also help residents identify their rooms. Some communities make it possible for residents to help with cooking or baking, using smell and taste to activate memories. Others, like Aegis of Lynnwood, add methods like music therapy and tactile art to the mix.
6. Incorporating creativity and activity to stimulate memory and increase a sense of purpose.
Besides activities like cooking and baking, memory care communities generally provide a range of creative activities for residents to participate in, fostering a sense of meaning and purpose in their day-to-day lives, as well as reducing agitation, redirecting attention, and promoting engagement and focus. It can even result in a reduction in the use of medication, according to Stokes. Aegis of Lynnwood places activity boxes throughout the community, as well as setting up “Life Skill Stations,” which utilize familiar objects to stimulate memories: an office desk and tools, a vanity with a wedding dress, a mail box for receiving letters.
These unique remedies provided by assisted living communities are improving the day-to-day lives of seniors in memory care, as well as giving comfort to their families.
Knowing that there are effective therapy methods in place reassures caregivers and family members that the person with dementia is being given the attention they need, while also preserving their dignity as a human being. The positive feedback speaks for itself. According to Stokes,
“The most common comment we hear from our families is, ‘we should have done this earlier.’ They love the care, love the staff and feel confident when they walk out of the front door; that their loved one is being taken care of.”
Do you have a loved one in memory care? What therapies and remedies have been most helpful or effective with your loved one? Please let us know in the comments below.