6 Key Questions to Ask when Evaluating an Alzheimer’s Residence
Many families are faced with the difficult decision of finding a residence for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Finding a facility is not a problem; almost all senior housing and nursing homes have a dementia wing, but not all programs are of the same caliber. How do you start evaluating an Alzheimer’s residence? Do all facilities offer the same programs?
Here are six questions to ask when considering the best facility for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
- How large is the Alzheimer’s unit?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease. People in the early stages are still active individuals and need space to walk around. If your loved one is still active, you do not want a unit that limits her movement. In fact, movement is important in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Many active Alzheimer’s residents also lose all sense of time and walk around late into the night. They need a space that is not only open but also where they can wander without getting lost or injure themselves.
- Does the unit convey a sense of calm?
An Alzheimer’s wing should offer some visual stimulation without appearing overly busy or confusing. They respond best to muted colors and calm scenes like views of gardens. You want to avoid confusing arrays of colors that could evoke fear.
- How does the facility protect residents from leaving?
A major concern of any Alzheimer’s unit is insuring its residents do not leave the facility unattended. Sometimes residents try to walk out of the building, thinking they are leaving for work or picking up children from school.
Some facilities install a coded lock on the entrance to the ward. This allows staff and family members to enter the area by punching in a code; the residents on the other hand cannot leave because they cannot remember the code.
Another approach is fitting each resident with a wanderguard, a sensory device installed in a bracelet that sets off an alarm if a resident leaves the area. This way the resident cannot leave the wing without setting off an alarm. The downside to a wanderguard is it does not deter active residents who continually walk past the alarm setting it off multiple times.
- What types of activities are offered?
Alzheimer’s patients need different levels of activities as the disease progresses. Residents in the early stages are still active and can follow simple directions, while later stage residents need simpler activities that stimulate the senses. Make sure the facilities has programs for all levels of the disease.
Music is important in all stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Even residents in the late stages of Alzheimer’s are responsive to music. Many patients who no longer speak or show any signs of responsiveness often sing when familiar songs are played for them. Music is often used to calm patients in stressful times as well.
- How does the facility handle residents who become agitated?
Dementia residents can become agitated for a number of reasons: loud noises, a change in routine and sometimes for no apparent reasons. Evenings are a time when Alzheimer’s patients become agitated or confused. This is a condition called sun downing. Some facilities stop agitation by prescribing sedatives, anti-anxiety or antipsychotic medications. Unfortunately these drugs often leave the patient drowsy and lethargic.
Some facilities are now experimenting with less intrusive methods. They are finding that if staff members talk to residents exhibiting signs of anxiety they can calm them without drugs. One example was the case of a woman who would stand near an elevator every evening frantically muttering to herself. She would try to leave every time the door opened. When a staff member finally asked her the reason for her anxiety, she explained she had to get home in time to cook dinner for her children when they returned from school. She calmed down when the staff assured her that her children had already eaten.
- Has the staff had special Alzheimer’s training?
Alzheimer’s patients experience the world differently and that world changes as their condition progresses. Staff who work with Alzheimer’s patients must be attuned to these changes and understand how to interact with respect and understanding.
The decision to place a family member in a dementia ward can often seem cruel, however with careful planning and asking the right questions, families can be assured their loved one is safe and getting the care they deserve.