In previous blog posts we’ve discussed acknowledging when the time comes to move a loved one to memory care facility and how to evaluate different institutions. Today we will explore all of the ways that memory care has improved in recent years. 

SNOEZELEN ROOMS 

Snoezelen therapy has been used for people with disabilities for awhile now, but its growth into memory care is starting to take hold. Snoezelen, also known as controlled multisensory environment (MSE), enables memory care residents to direct their own therapy. The process involves the use of lights, sounds, textures and aromas to stimulate a variety of senses, which promotes relaxation and a sense of control in a Snoezelen therapy room. 

Some elements include instillation of clear tubes that are filled with water. Residents have the ability to control the frequency of the bubbles and the water color. Other features might include a light installation that promoted hand / eye coordination. When a resident claps his hands, he will see light movement on the wall. There are also more tactile elements, like sensory quilts and interactive music components. 

These types of rooms have been common in other countries and proven to reduce agitation and evoke a level of calm, often only achieved through medication to a state of calm. As a matter of fact, a study published by the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias suggested that this type of treatment should be considered before pharmacological methods.  Overmedication is sometimes referred to as “chemical restraint,” and has been the subject of litigation involving elderly abuse claims. 

SENSORY NEIGHBORHOODS 

It’s common for memory care facilities to create neighborhoods that meet different degrees of dementia need. The “sensory neighborhood” meets the needs of the residents with the most progressed state of dementia, where incorporating the senses is the best — and sometimes the only — way to communicate with them. 

This differs from Snoezelen therapy in that these multi-sensory rooms are meant to awaken and engage residents, rather than calm them. The rooms are meant to accommodate multiple residents and often rotate between many different themes to encourage resident engagement. At Silverado Senior Living, a memory care facility that has residences in eight states, during a themed-China event, a Chinese street scene with vendors will be played on the TV, including hanging chickens and the sights and sounds of a busy street. Local music plays, incense is burned, and Chinese food and Chinese objects are also featured. 

Through studies, we’ve learned that we all hold deep-seated memories on a sensory level. So by triggering feel, smell, taste, touch and sound, dementia sufferers are able to access those memories and reconnect with the world around them. 

KEEPING COUPLES TOGETHER 

In the past, when a couple had one spouse who needed memory care and another who has no cognitive decline, for example, or maybe is only in assisted living, they were not able to be kept together. Not acceptable!  This separation has proven difficult for both parties, especially the dementia patient as it induced even more anxiety. 

Chicago-based Bright Oaks Group is changing up this model with a program called “The Bridge.” Their program enables couple to live together, even when one needs memory-related care. The couples are able to be independent within their units, but support is there when they need it. 

GRIND DINING 

Food service for those in memory care has always proved to be a challenge. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease often involves cognitive, neuromuscular and chewing disorders, that make the simple act of eating difficult. Several years ago, the directors at The Arbor Company saw the need for an improved dining experience that not only gave residents varied flavors they enjoyed, but also preserved the dignity in eating. They reached out to foodservice professionals Sarah Gorham and Stone Morris to develop a specialized menu with both a culinary and nutrition focus. 

The solution: Grind dining. Instead of subsisting on a diet of applesauce and fish sticks, meals that are either pureed or finger foods, all of the food that is served to the other residents is simply ground into something that can be held. These types of changes are being implemented in memory care dining rooms across the country. 

These are just some of the changes that have been made in memory care programing. As more studies are done, and the need for memory care increases, look for facilities that offer these and more progressive forms of treatment to make the transition to memory care seamless and productive. 

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