It’s no secret that navigating a loved one’s journey through Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other cognitive issues can be distressing. And often, the emotional burden—especially for adult children—is equal to the need to face practical realities: Where will mom or dad live now? Which community provides the best care? How can my parent remain connected to the hobbies, habits, and passions that once defined their life?
Many memory care communities will talk about staff, programming, and the facility itself. But what do you really need to know to make the best memory care decision for your loved one? And what questions should you ask to make sure you get the best, and most accurate, answers? Consider beginning with three key elements: round-the-clock staff support, staffing consistency, and resident programming.
1. Round-the-Clock Staff Support
When it comes to the medical and support staff who will interact with your loved one, a couple of things are key: staffing (especially qualifications of overnight staff) and medical training for memory impairment. As you visit memory care residences, ask about how the overnight staff is qualified to address the sleep disturbances and anxiety that so often accompany dementia. Some organizations drastically reduce staff at night, despite the fact that confusion and disorientation—especially among seniors with cognitive issues—typically increase at night. The staff-to-resident ratio also can be helpful to know. Clarify whether that number includes just nursing staff, or support staff as well (housekeeping, programming staff, administrative, etc.). Further, be sure to also ask about resident interaction. Some types of facilities employ RNs in a purely administrative role—who may rarely, if ever, interact with residents, but may be included in the ratio of staff onsite.
At Wentworth Senior Living: For our residents requiring specialized memory care, specially trained staff is on hand around-the-clock to support residents with their individual needs. We’re prepared to offer one-on-one attention and programming for residents who have difficulty sleeping or require companionship and support. Our LNAs, RNs, enrichment staff, and housekeepers all have personal interactions with each resident. They understand that when cognitive function begins to deteriorate, seniors depend on their instincts and emotions—so it’s imperative to inspire comfort, trust, and security through a nurturing environment with attentive, qualified support. Because we prioritize an individual approach to resident care, our staff is there to adapt to their world, not the other way around.
2. Staffing Consistency
Does the organization turn over staff yearly or more often? What’s the average tenure? Look for a place where staff come and stay. Longevity and retention are good indicators that (1) your loved one will be able to develop meaningful relationships with staff who stick around, and (2) that, as a business, the organization treats its people well.
At WSL: Our staff members have been at Wentworth Senior Living for an average of approximately four years, with some having served 15 or more. As a team, we value the opportunity to get to know each individual resident—because we know that the better we know them, the better we’re able to serve them. And serving them well means they feel safe and connected to their lives and their community—all of which is vital in maintaining a sense of security and a sense of self, even as cognitive function declines.
What does the community offer in terms of active programming for seniors? During what hours of the day is programming offered? Is it offered seven days a week, or just Monday-Friday? Are activities tailored to individual residents’ cognitive and physical needs—or is it a “one-size-fits-all” calendar?
Why it matters: For seniors facing Alzheimer’s and dementia, enrichment programming is more than just a way to pass time during the day. It’s an opportunity for seniors to find connections to the passions and interests that once defined them, both personally and professionally. So while there’s nothing wrong with card games and chair yoga, personalized activities offered throughout the entire day—not just during “business hours”—can help seniors feel successful, confident, and connected to their community.
At WSL: For our memory care residents, structured enrichment programming is offered more than 12 hours a day (6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.), seven days a week. Our activities are designed around our residents’ needs and interests, and are customizable to a particular resident’s ability. For example, if we offer a program on the sea, some residents may reminisce and talk about family trips to the beach, while others will be engaged with seaside sounds and the feeling of sand and shells. A resident who is up at night and looking to be engaged at 3:00 a.m. will benefit from a one-on-one activity or support to help him or her wind down and be more ready for sleep.
Our staff supports each individual in achieving moments of success, maintaining dignity, and promoting a sense of self worth. These moments of success look different for every resident—and, for most, it’s simply about remaining in touch with the tasks and routines that once represented “normal” life. Basic activities such as folding laundry, sorting mail, or reading favorite poems can evoke the satisfaction of completing the day successfully.