Oct 13, 2015

What is a dementia care community?

A dementia care community, often referred to as a “memory care facility,” or a “dementia unit,” is a type of long-term care community reserved for people with dementia.

Dementia care communities are equipped to work with people who have dementia | Alzheimer's Reading Room
"I have seen many residents move from an assisted living environment to a dementia care environment, and the positive effects that the move can have."

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By Rachael Wonderlin
Alzheimer's Reading Room

This type of community can be considered a “secure” or “not secure” unit. When a unit is secure, it means it is locked and separate from the rest of the community. A unit that is not secure can still have locked doors preventing people from going outside, but it may not be locked off from the larger community, such as an assisted living facility.

In either case, these communities can be fantastic havens for people with dementia. They are often separate from the larger senior living community that they are a part of. I myself have been in dementia communities that are stand-alone buildings, on a different floor, or even just down the hall from the rest of the building.

I have worked in a number of different communities. While they are all different, they all offer something that a typical assisted living community cannot provide: programming and care related specifically to people with dementia.

Often, these communities provide more care staff to get a better staff-to-resident ratio. They also often have their own dining facilities that are separate from the dining area where residents without dementia eat.

Caregivers have dementia care experience and are better prepared to work with residents who have cognitive loss. It takes a very special type of caregiver to work with adults who have dementia, so many communities have a dedicated dementia-only staff.

I have seen many residents move from an assisted living environment to a dementia care environment, and the positive effects that the move can have.

One resident I had, Maria, was quiet and reserved in her assisted living community. She did not participate in any programs, nor did she seem to have any friends. It was a sad state of affairs, and her family had a hard time accepting that it was time to move her into a dementia care community.

Her dementia had progressed to the point where she was socially isolating herself—and other residents were socially isolating her, too.

When she moved to our dementia care community, Maria’s mood changed. She made friends, baked with us, went on outings, and seemed to be happier overall. She was finally with people at her cognitive level, and she was receiving the type of care that she needed.

The best communities are ones those where the interior decor and mood suit the residents who live there.

Programs and activities are provided throughout the day. The care staff is attentive and they know their residents.

Life stations, like the corners where you may find a bassinet and baby dolls, or another location where you may see a men’s workstation or a set of Memorable Pets (www.memorablepets.com), are spread throughout the building.

I have built many of these life stations, and I take great pride in them. I love seeing what a baby doll can do for a resident with moderate to advanced dementia—the happiness that a doll can bring to someone who believes it is real is magical.

I am sure that I will get a number of comments on this article, some complaining about how awful their loved ones’ experience in memory care was, and some saying that it saved the whole family from stress, anxiety, and absolute destruction.

As a dementia care expert and a gerontologist, I stand behind long-term care communities.

While I think that we have a long way to go in providing the best care possible for people with dementia, I believe that care communities offer a reprieve that home-care agencies and family-based care cannot.

Memory care communities are equipped to work with people who have dementia, and they are built to do so.

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