If you are caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, you may be worried about how to best help your family member as their needs change. While living at home may be the right choice currently, your loved one might eventually need more care than you and your family can give at home, so it's important to understand your long-term care options.
Here's what you need to know about long-term care for dementia patients.
Types of Care
Dementia patients are not all the same, and the needs of any individual patient will not stay the same throughout their life. That's why there are a number of different types of care available to those with dementia, and it's important for their families and caregivers to understand these varying options.
Typically, there are several options available for long-term care for dementia patients, including the following:
Home Health Services
This kind of care is intended for dementia patients who still live at home, generally with family caregivers. Home health services provides personal care for the Alzheimer's patient, which can include help with things like eating, dressing, bathing and using the bathroom.
Home health aides may also provide help with meal preparation, household chores and basic nursing care, such as helping the patient take medications, use medical equipment and provide any necessary first aid. Some home health care providers can also offer physical or occupational therapy.
These services are typically geared toward patients who maintain a certain level of independence and who do not need specialized memory care or other high-level nursing services.
Adult Care Centers
Dementia patients who live with family caregivers may benefit from adult care centers, which allow them to participate in supervised activities during the day. This kind of care center works a little like traditional day care: The dementia patient will return home every day, but you can count on the care center to help them participate in social programs, appropriate exercise programs, meals, art and music, and even support groups.
Many adult care centers offer transportation to and from the patient's home, which can help family caregivers with time management. While these care centers may be able to offer limited health and nursing services, they are not intended as a place for medical or skilled nursing care, even if the adult care center is designed specifically for dementia or Alzheimer's patients. This means adult care centers are best for patients who maintain a level of mobility and some independence but need more daily supervision than the family caregivers may be able to provide.
This sort of facility is what you might think of first when you consider long-term care for dementia patients. Assisted living facilities are residential programs for those who are capable of living independently as long as they get needed support that may not be possible at home.
Residents in assisted living facilities can generally expect to either live in an individual apartment, suite or room, or in a shared space with other residents. The facility will provide services like meal preparation, housekeeping, social programming and management of medications.
Some assisted living residences have varying levels of care available, depending on the individual's needs. This can include everything from basically independent living in an apartment to round-the-clock skilled nursing care. This kind of facility is known as a "continuing care retirement community." Residents can feel confident that their needs will be met as their care needs change, all in the same facility. This can help reduce a dementia patient's anxiety about moving to an unfamiliar place as their disease progresses.
Assisted living facilities with specialized dementia care are often referred to as "memory care" assisted living. These specialized facilities offer enhanced safety measures, staff who are trained in providing memory care, additional cues, signs and visuals to support independence among the residents, and activities geared toward providing meaningful engagement for those with dementia.
These facilities are set up to care for dementia patients who are not able to live independently anymore, even with family caregivers or in an assisted living facility. That means you can expect 24-hour supervision of patients to ensure their health and safety, as well as skilled nursing and medical care provided on-site.
Depending on the nursing home, the facility may provide specific care services and accommodations for patients with Alzheimer's.
Other Types of Care
In addition to the above options for long-term care for dementia patients, there are a number of other care options that can help families take care of their loved ones. These include:
- Respite care: Family caregivers may be able to handle a dementia patient's needs at home, yet require an occasional break. Respite care is an opportunity for the family caregiver to take time away from their caregiving duties and for the dementia patient to enjoy some non-family social interaction. While respite care can simply be an informal arrangement with an extended family member or friend, caregivers can also potentially access respite care from a community organization or via a home health service.
- Geriatric care management: With this kind of service, a geriatric care manager — typically either a nurse or a social worker — will evaluate your in-home care needs so that you can continue having your loved one living at home. This manager can also help you figure out where to find necessary care services, plan out short- and long-term care and offer support and recommendations for any difficult care issues. Geriatric care management services may be offered by local government agencies or charities.
Choosing the Right Long-Term Care for Dementia
Dementia changes the way your loved one interacts with the world, which can be painful to watch. It's easy to bury your head in the sand rather than recognize the fact that the disease will progress in ways that will make your current care plan impossible in the future.
This is why it's important to plan ahead for future care needs at the same time you figure out your current needs. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right care program, both for now and for the future. These include:
- Amount of supervision needed
- Health diagnoses (aside from dementia)
- Level of help needed for personal care, hygiene, feeding, dressing and bathing
- Dietary and meal preparation needs
- Medication management needs
- Family caregiver needs and abilities
Talking these factors over with an expert can help you feel more confident about your choices. That's why it can be a good idea to partner with a geriatric care manager or a social worker to help you find the best facilities and options to meet your and your loved one's needs. You can start with your family member's doctor to get a recommendation for a care manager or a social worker who specializes in dementia care.
Helping a parent or loved one with dementia does not have to be an impossibly overwhelming task. Understanding what kinds of care programs are available is the first step in finding the right long-term care for your unique circumstance.