Almost half of all nursing home residents suffer from dementia, primarily caused by Alzheimer’s disease. It can be tricky for loved ones to find the right placement. Even though most homes now have dementia units or wings, experts say the quality and culture can vary greatly.
The Alzheimer’s Association, a national organization, reports that special care dementia units are one of the fastest growing parts of the nursing home business. Security is always a paramount concern, though each unit will use different strategies. There’s always a danger that dementia patients will wander off the grounds, and not know how to get back. Some facilities lock the doors to residents’ rooms at nights, or even tie them to their beds – others use innovative approaches like “wander guards” that set off alarms if patients leave designated areas.
While one of the primary purposes of dementia units is to keep patients from wandering, dementia patients have other special needs as well. A New York Times article highlights some of the other factors to consider when choosing a dementia unit. They include:
- Treatment strategies – Medical staff may rely too heavily on drugs, such as sedatives or antipsychotics to calm agitated patients. Agitation can often be a symptom of an underlying problem, such as pain or anxiety, so be sure the unit staff looks at the whole patient before turning to drugs too quickly.
- Is there enough room? – Some nursing homes simply segregate dementia patients, with little consideration to their quality of life. Consider whether the patient has enough room to move around and get some physical activity.
- Right balance of activities – Are the residents occasionally taken outside? Are there some activities, but not too stimulating? Is pet therapy or music therapy available?
- Are stages of care available? – As dementia advances, a patient’s needs will change.
In general, the same advice applies for dementia patients as for any nursing home resident: make several visits at different times of day to observe the environment. Note how staff interact with residents, how meals are handled, and note whether residents are well-dressed and well-groomed.
The Alzheimer’s Association has great information on its website (www.alz.org) to help you get started in choosing care providers.