Anyone who has worked in nursing home or has cared for an aging parent or grandparent knows how difficult the process of getting older can be. Diseases such as Alzheimers and dementia make caring for those people an even bigger challenge. Most often, a point is reached where family members are no longer capable of helping their loved ones and they have to be moved to a home. This transition is challenging for all parties involved, especially the senior being forced to move.
Thankfully, some people are starting to rethink what a long term care home should look like. Jean Makesh, CEO of Lantern assisted living facilities, has come up with a solution to make residents residents feel more at ease in their new home. (1)
The issue with long term care homes
Confusion is extremely common for those suffering from Alzheimers and dementia. Often, their minds become sort of stuck in an era gone by – a time long ago in their past that left an impression on them.
Being moved from their homes into a long term care facility adds to that confusion. All of a sudden they are living in a place that they do not recognize and around people they do not know. They are left feeling out of place and like they need to leave.
A new type of long term care
Makesh looked at the environments in which seniors were living and thought that perhaps one of the reasons that they felt so confused was because their living space resembles nothing like they are used to. Maybe a design change will help them to feel more relaxed – more at home.
“What if we design an environment that looks like outside?” he said. “What if I can have a sunrise and sunset inside the building? What if I’m able to have the moon and stars come out? What if I build a unit that takes residents back to the ’30s and ’40s?” (1)
Makesh began to redesign Lantern’s Ohio care facility to resemble a neighborhood that residents would have been more familiar with, that they grew up and spent the majority of their lives in. (1)
The memory care home has several features to make residence feel like that when they are out of their rooms, they are in a regular suburb (1):
- The outside of all rooms are built to look like the outside of a house.
- These “homes” are situated on quiet little indoor streets.
- Fake grass and walkways line the halls.
- The ceiling is a projection of a digital sky that changes to reflect the time of day.
- Nature sounds and aromas are pumped throughout the halls during the day.
Changing the way we think about dementia and long term care
Makesh’s goal is to make people start to think about the objective of long term care for people with alzheimers and dementia means. While having them live in a residence that resembles their old streets and stomping grounds won’t bring their memories back, it will allow them a higher quality of life in their later years. (1)
He explains that traditional nursing homes with unnatural environments and schedules create conflict with many residents. They are confused, they become scared, and then they act out. They are then given drugs to help calm them down. Essentially, they are written off.
Using things such as proper environments and teaching self-care and hygiene basics, we can drastically improve these patients’ lives. (1)
“In five years, we’re going to [be able to] rehabilitate our clients where they can live independently in our environment,” he said. “In 10 years, we’re going to be able to send them back home.” (1)
Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimers and Dementia
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or when writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace your steps
- Decreased or poor judgement
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
Early detection is key, so if you notice these symptoms see your doctor right away.
How to help someone with Alzheimers
Helping a family member or loved one through an Alzheimers or dementia diagnosis is not easy. As the disease progresses the person who you have always known will slowly begin to change. They may begin experiencing mood swings, have other health complications, have difficulty with site, depth perception, motor control and hearing. They gradually lose their independence and will rely more heavily on those around them to get through their day. (3)
There are many things you can do to help people feel more at ease and in control while still keeping them safe from harm (3):
- Ask them for help with simple tasks, such as setting the table or folding the laundry.
- Establish a daily routine and stick to it as much as possible.
- Listen to music and play songs that they enjoy and know from their past.
- Keep everything simple: Use shorter sentences, focus on one topic at a time.
- Focus on feelings rather than words. For example: “You seem sad/worried/scared.”
- Check-in on them frequently: make sure they are well-hydrated and have plenty of snacks so they don’t lose weight.
Remember, if you become stressed or angry with them, it will only upset them further. Instead, take some deep breaths and remain calm. (3)
The more you educate yourself on Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other age-related memory issues, the better equipped you will be to care for the others in your lives. No matter how bad these diseases get, those who suffer from them are still human. They deserve to be treated with dignity, love, and respect.