Caring for a person with a memory impairment requires patience and flexibility. As the person loses their ability to remember, reason and communicate, the caregiver must adapt to meet their needs and maintain their quality of life.
Caregivers at Elderwood, a leading provider of senior memory care services in New York, Rhode Island and Vermont use a variety of tools, from clinical and strategic to physical and technological, to achieve these goals.
Programs designed for every ability level
Seasons Memory Care provides specialized programming needs for people with cognitive impairments. While the needs of a dementia patient are as varied as the individual, all benefit from stimulation, relaxation, brain exercises, physical activity, purposeful activity and social interaction.
One of the primary tools that guides care for memory impaired patients is the clinical assessment performed upon admission, said Lisa Vesneske-Margage, LPN, memory care coordinator at Elderwood Village at Bassett Park, in Williamsville, New York, which offers Elderwood’s only assisted living memory care program. The assessment helps staff understand an individual’s background and gauge the level of assistance they will need – whether, for example, a resident can brush their teeth independently or will need someone to provide verbal cues to go through the steps.
Connecting through life story
Elderwood at Grand Island, a skilled nursing community with a secure memory care floor, uses an individual’s Life Story to provide touchpoints for their care. The Life Story includes information about the person’s background, occupations, hobbies, family and other important details. Contained within a binder that may also include photographs and notes from family, the Life Story provides a resource for staff to learn about the individual and increase the ways in which staff can approach and engage them.
Right Engagement Walking Program
Elderwood introduced the Right Engagement Walking Program to increase movement and prevent falls among memory impaired residents. Right Engagement encourages residents to take “virtual” walking tours of various destinations, depicted through photographs posted in the halls. Residents get passports that are checked off when they achieve a certain number of steps and they enjoy a snack after their walk.
The walking program gets residents moving; they become more alert and aware of their surroundings as they study the pictures. The increased activity helps decrease pain and improve balance and range of motion. It often triggers memories of their own travels and gives them something to discuss with their families on their next video call.
Using technology for memory care
Within the Seasons program, activities leaders use a variety of technology to provide programming for the residents. Especially during a time of pandemic, when it isn’t possible to bring a large number of residents together, activities leaders rely on iPads, Smart TVs and videos to engage and entertain.
“FaceTime has been a fantastic tool for people with dementia to continue family connections”, said Ashley Weiser, director of activities at Elderwood at Grand Island.
“As soon as they see their family members, they remember everything – the names of their grandkids, where they are, where they’re working,” she said. “We sometimes do as many as 15 FaceTime calls a day.”
While some tech tools are valuable resources for dementia caregivers, Laczi cautions that it’s important to consider whether the person is able to understand the device. Most seniors are not very tech-savvy, so use of iPads and other devices typically requires staff assistance. Also, as cognitive issues worsen, they may no longer be able to differentiate between what is “in person” and what is on the screen.
Tapping into the senses
Technology is only one tool for caregivers; there are many non-technical tools that can enrich the life of a person with memory impairment. From relaxing videos or music to soft-textured weighted blankets to aromatherapy, a variety of tactics help increase or decrease a resident’s activity level.
Christie Fitzgibbons, director of activities at Elderwood at Wheatfield, has seen how these items benefit residents who participate in the Sensory Balance Program. Recently, she’s been “playing with the music,” gradually reducing the intensity when a resident with high energy needs to wind down, or increasing the intensity – and perhaps adding in some peppy aromas like mint or citrus — to help bring up the energy.
Weighted objects, particularly electronic dogs and cats, along with weighted baby dolls, are very helpful tools on the memory care floors, said Laczi. Wandering is a common issue among residents with dementia. If a resident can’t settle down, it can be hard to get them to eat or take their medications.
“A weighted object gives them something to feel, it anchors them,” she said. “They start paying attention. They pick up their head or we can get them to sit down and participate in an activity.”
Laczi noted that while it takes time to learn about the person and discover the most effective approaches to their care, the goal is finding the right combination of tools to enhance their quality of life.
“It’s a commitment,” she said. “Part of it is us figuring out who that person is, so we can figure out how to engage them and help them. It takes a team approach, but when we find something that works, it’s wonderful to see that person’s quality of life improve.”
For more information on memory care services to preserve your loved one’s quality of life, click here.