An elder suffering from memory loss will not be forgotten.
That is the guiding principle of facilities specializing in the care of those with dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. And, luckily for the victims of memory loss and their families, memory care buildings are becoming more widely available.
Three years ago, Tom Barr needed a place to live for his mother Margaret Barr who suffers from dementia. She had been living in an assisted living building, but as her disease progressed she needed more help. Tom hired an around-the-clock caretaker, but soon enough Margaret's needs outstripped even that arrangement.
"On a whim, we looked at a new facility in Vernon Hills called Autumn Leaves that was just for those with memory loss," says Barr. "And we liked it." He says the staff was professional and friendly. "It saved us the agony of finding a place," he adds. Barr's mother was the ninth resident to move into Autumn Leaves of Vernon Hills, which opened in August 2008. The building has 43 residents, all with some stage of dementia.
Margaret Barr, now age 95, used to participate in many building activities including crafts, bingo and outings. The disease has progressed to the point where she can't participate in activities much anymore and she rarely speaks. But once in a while she surprises everyone. "She shocked us recently by saying that I better come back," says Barr, relieved that his mother has a safe, caring home.
Memory loss among the elderly is a huge problem that only looks to get worse.
According to the Alzehimer's Association, after age 85, nearly half of all seniors will have some dementia. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, afflicts 5.4 million Americans. And as we live longer, more and more people are expected to develop problems. The Association also reports that by 2050, an estimated 16 million people will have Alzheimer's disease.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities often have residents with memory loss. But special buildings just for those with memory loss have become more common in the last 10 years.
Memory loss facilities can be free standing buildings just for those with dementia. Sometimes the facilities are part of a retirement campus with different types of housing. Or an assisted living building may have a memory care section or unit, separate from the main facility.
Memory care buildings are typically divided into neighborhoods of 10 to 12 residents. Small groups are less overwhelming for those with memory problems.
Senior Star at Weber Place in Romeoville is a rental retirement campus with apartments for independent seniors, assisted living units and a separate building for those with memory loss. The memory care building has 77 private suites. Like many memory care buildings, it was designed for those with memory loss. The two-story building is a locked facility, but built in a circle. So residents, who often wander, can walk without getting lost. Residents can also walk until they find their rooms because they don't have to make any turns. The circle design also provides an outside courtyard which is visible to the staff.
Dave Swanson's mother, Jean Swanson, has lived at Weber Place for two years. She likes to sit outside on nice days. "She thinks she's at a resort," says Swanson.
Like other memory care buildings, Weber Place has six to seven daily activities.
Meals are provided in a dining room. The staff includes nurses and caregivers who have been trained to work with those with dementia.
Staff assesses new residents
Memory care buildings often require a diagnosis from a physician prior to admission. The building staff will also conduct an assessment of the senior to see if he or she is an appropriate candidate for the facility. The assessment is also used to gauge the senior's abilities and the amount of care that will be needed.
Since the transition to a memory care building can be tough for the resident and family alike, support groups and counseling sessions are often made available by the building staff.
Memory care buildings usually provide everything the resident needs. That includes meals and snacks, medication administration and other services.
Since dementia is a progressive disease, the residents of a memory care facility are usually at different stages of decline. Sunrise Assisted Living of Wilmette specializes only in those with memory loss and has 34 residents. There are two levels of care. The Terrace Club is for those with early stage memory loss. Activities in this program are designed to help the resident stay engaged as long as possible. For example, residents do volunteer work. One of the favorite activities is for residents to plan, prepare and serve a meal at the Ronald McDonald House, a facility in Chicago for families with sick children.
Those in the later stages of the disease are part of the Reminiscence program. "At that point, we try to give someone a pleasant day," says Diana Iacobucci, executive director at Sunrise Assisted Living of Wilmette.
That goal is close to Iacobucci's heart. Her mother lives at the Sunrise building. "That's how strongly I believe in the program here," says Iacobucci. Her mother had been living in an assisted living facility in Arizona. But she was having trouble swallowing and losing weight.
Since moving to the Sunrise facility, her mother has gained six pounds. "Doing the right thing with love makes a world of difference," says Iacobucci.
A memory care building can improve the quality of life for its residents, but the cost is high. Monthly charges range from about $4,500 to $7,000. The more care a resident needs, the higher the cost. The price also depends on the location of the building with upscale areas costing the most.
Medicare doesn't pay for memory care. The bill must be paid by the senior and his or her family, in what is called a private-pay arrangement. Families usually put together a patchwork of payment sources. Some seniors are lucky enough to have long-term care insurance to cover much of the cost. Pensions and Social Security payments help too. Adult children often make up the difference. Dave Swanson was fortunate because his mother has a pension along with her deceased husband's pension. She also gets Social Security and has a house that is rented out and provides monthly income. Satisfied with his choice for his mom, Swanson says: "She's happy and safe."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun