Moving a loved one into a memory care community isn’t easy. As a loved one of someone living with dementia and memory loss, you might be wondering will they like it there? How long will it take to adjust? How will my mom’s caregivers handle it if she is having a bad day? These questions and many more cross the minds of every family who has ever moved a loved one to a memory care community.
Although “person-centered care” is becoming more understood and adopted by memory care communities across the United States, it’s not the norm yet for all communities. Championed by internationally recognized dementia practitioner, educator, and founder of the Positive Approach to Care Teepa Snow, person-centered care is a positive approach to caring for those with dementia and memory loss that is built around the needs of the individual and emphasizes care relationships.
Because the fundamental principle of person-centered care is individualized emotional and physical spaces for care that are in tune with people’s changing needs, there isn’t just one way to practice this positive approach. However, there are core characteristics and principles that you should be able to see and experience in memory care communities engaged in this approach.
If you believe a person-centered philosophy of care will best meet your needs and your loved one’s needs, here are eight things to look for in a memory care community.
1. Systems for Getting to Know Residents
Look for a memory care community that gets to know your loved one: Who have they been? What did they value? Who are they now? What do they value now?For example, at Highgate Senior Living, when a new resident moves in, someone from the Life Enhancement Team will stop by to conduct a Life Story Interview and Purposeful Living Interview. The Life Story Interview helps team members better understand the history of each of the residents and share their story with other residents. The Purposeful Living Interview helps team members understand what brings meaning to each resident’s day and elicit ideas and information that allows them to plan programming for the residents so they can continue to live a life of purpose.
2. Creative Staffing Approaches
Look for a memory care community that has consistent care partners, “universal worker” job descriptions, neighborhood team leaders, and an all-hands-on-deck philosophy.For example, Highgate Senior Living assigns a preferred care partner to the same group of residents every day. This allows residents to form close bonds with their care partners, which directly impacts each resident’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
3. Maximizing Independence
Look for a community that encourages independence: Residents go to bed and wake when they want. Bathing choices are based on residents’ preferences. Activities are based on residents’ interests rather than a one-size-fits-all approach and only big group activities.
For example, at Highgate Senior Living, if a resident needs help eating, care partners will help eat with them instead of just feeding them. There’s a big difference in doing something with them rather than for them.
4. A Relationship-driven Move-in Experience
Look for a memory care community that emphasizes building relationships and feelings of home, not a medical admission. That might look like a welcome committee; welcome rituals; a buddy system for both families and residents; a system for notifying and introducing care partners, families, and residents of a new neighbor; and a well-developed orientation or transitions program for families and elders.
For example, Highgate communities have a resident ambassador program in which about five residents who have lived at Highgate for a while can show a new resident the ropes. The resident ambassador will welcome the new member to the community with a gift basket, introducing them to others and inviting them to activities and events.
5. Focusing on Possibilities, Not Limitations
Look for a community where care partners focus on what’s left, not what’s lost, and what can be done rather than what can’t. The memory care community might offer fitness, wellness, and enrichment programs and prioritize resident-directed decision-making.
For example, for residents who were homemakers, Highgate care partners might pull out some towels and start folding them. Then, the residents will come over and fold with them. That might seem small, but it used to provide them purpose to do the laundry, so Highgate finds those things and helps them with that.
6. Supporting the Community Through Grief and Loss
Look for a memory care community that determines and honors resident and family preferences around end-of-life care. For example, the community might offer Five Wishes or Tranquil Passages programs, healing circles, memorial rituals and services that acknowledge deaths, comfort quilts, and programs that assist care partners, residents, and families with loss.
7. Culinary Engagement
Look for a community that offers a dining program that sparks resident engagement. Residents eat what they want, when they want. Nutritious and delicious food restores the joy of dining. Finger foods and snacks tailored to individual preferences are available. Family members are invited to be involved in dining.
For example, at Highgate Senior Living, when residents sit down for a meal in the dining room, they order off a menu of at least four different items. In addition to a seasonal menu that features Chef’s Choice, Resident’s Choice, and Team Member’s Choice meals, Highgate also offers an anytime menu. Sandwiches and snacks are available around the clock.
8. Environment for Living
Look for a community, not a facility. Memory care communities that operate based on a social model typically more closely resemble an apartment complex, whereas medical-model communities might have medication carts in the hallway, employees wearing medical scrubs as a uniform, and a centrally located nurses station when you walk in the door.
A person-centered community puts a special emphasis on creating a relaxing, cozy, and secure environment. The hallways might be color-coded to assist with navigation and reduce anxiety in residents. There might be an easily accessible garden with a simple circular path to give someone with dementia a secure place to go outside.
Additionally, many communities look similar to private homes with areas that residents can perform normal everyday activities. Art that triggers memories and fosters connection with other residents hangs on the walls. Medical equipment is disguised or hidden so rooms feel more like a bedroom than a clinical space.
9. Community Connections and Authentic Experiences That Promote Well-Being
Look for a community that prioritizes holistic health, overall wellness, and purposeful living. That might look like social action clubs and volunteer programs or hosting community groups and programs, art shows, and community partnerships with local colleges.
For example, Highgate Senior Living memory care residents have visited Yellowstone National Park and stayed overnight, created colorful fleece blankets for local nonprofits, knitted purple caps to go home with parents at the birth of their baby to raise awareness for Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention, and created wedding photo albums.
Benefits of Person-centered Care Approaches
The benefits of person-centered care aren’t just anecdotal. Research shows that person-centered care leads to improved quality of life, decreased agitation, improved sleep patterns, and maintenance of self-esteem.
To learn more about how person-centered care differs from the traditional approach to dementia care and read examples of person-centered care approaches throughout the progression of dementia that demonstrate how this positive approach empowers residents to live life and make choices regarding their level of ability, download our eBook Person-centered Care: A Positive Approach to Caring for Those with Dementia and Memory Loss.