Assisted Living Reinvented: The Modern Miracle of Memory Care

When you think of assisted living, what images come to mind? White-washed walls and tile floors? Aides in white uniforms spoon feeding elders mush and medicine? Wheelchairs sitting in front of droning television sets?

While all this may often be the tableau of popular culture, nothing could be further from the truth.

Assisted living is a dynamic, colorful environment where residents are given free range to engage in whatever activities that inspire them, coupled with 24-hour support services. Nothing demonstrates this renewed and more accurate vision of assisted living more effectively than one of its more recent innovations: memory care.

Shifting Toward Memory Care

Memory care came about to enhance the long-term care environment for those living with any one of the all-too prevalent forms of dementia.

Rates of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have skyrocketed over the past 20-30 years, with 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s alone. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and the numbers are projected to triple by 2050.

“These statistics are astounding,” says Kendra Urdzik, Vice President of Health Services and Chief Health Officer at Judson. “The need for memory support programs and innovative alternatives to the traditional models will be now and in the coming years.”

And while dementia prevention research has come a long way recently, with the baby boomer generation now entering their elder years, the need for innovations in assisted living and memory care will only become more critical.

How Memory Care is Reinventing Assisted Living

Memory care can take a number of forms, but due to its inherently individualistic nature, doesn’t find its identity in any one program or service. Whether it’s increased opportunities for socialization, planned recreational activities, or musical memory programs, memory care finds applications for a wide variety of symptoms, conditions and diseases.

“Memory care programs create an individual plan with one’s daily routines in mind,” says Urdzik. “Without this routine, we often see increased frustration, anxiety and agitation.”

Memory care used to be all about leisure and creating a relaxing environment for residents. These days, in places like Judson, it is evolving into a more therapeutic paradigm of care, with emphasis placed on sensory-based programming like art and music. Some aspects of memory care that make it stand out from traditional assisted living models are:

  • High staff-to-resident ratios
  • Sensory-based programming
  • Individualized “person-centered care” specific to each resident’s needs
  • Enhancing mobility in a safe, secure environment
  • 24-hour on-site caregivers
  • The ability to accommodate residents in all stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia

There is no one-size-fits-all model for memory care, which is why it’s critical for any assisted living facility to incorporate a wide array of tools and programs to address the range of conditions and symptoms that come with memory loss and aging.

How Judson Is Reinventing Memory Care

“Judson is the first site in Ohio that has integrated Comfort Matters, a Beatitudes program that is an evidence-based dementia care education program,” says Urdzik. “It’s dedicated to improving the quality of care and quality of life for people living with dementia.”

Among other programs like Music and Memory and cultural and educational offerings, Comfort Matters has already helped memory care residents at Judson enjoy life without much of the anxiety they might otherwise have experienced in a traditional assisted living facility.

Judson offers three memory support neighborhoods, one at each Judson community. Embedded in everything Judson does for memory care are the following programs:

Comfort Matters – A comfort-focused, individualistic approach, Comfort Matters’ goal is to provide the most successful living experience possible.

Music and Memory – Founded in 2006, Music and Memory is an international program that provides iPods to senior living residents so they can find renewed meaning and connection in their lives through the gift of personalized music.

Memory Cafe – This one-of-a-kind Judson program is a social gathering for people with memory loss and their families and friends to come together for coffee and breakfast in a relaxed, supportive environment. The Memory Cafe allows for caregivers, friends and family to come together and support one another, while forming new friendships right here at Judson.

The Astounding Benefits of Memory Care

The benefits of memory care seem almost too good to be true, especially for such a new paradigm of senior living.

With such an emphasis placed on the arts, specifically the Music and Memory programs and various art therapy initiatives, it makes you wonder why it’s so effective.

According to the New Yorker, “Research has shown that endorphins released during a pleasant experience have a salutary effect on a person with dementia even after the experience is forgotten.”

This is why programs like Comfort Matters are so important. Their goal is to create pleasurable experiences throughout the day because their effects, while seemingly fleeting, are in fact long-lasting and can benefit residents for extended periods of time.

Music and Memory is a prime example of why this approach works. The program’s website features a resident named Henry, who, when he first entered his nursing home, was “inert, vaguely depressed, unresponsive, and almost un-alive.”

But when he is given an iPod containing his favorite music, Henry comes to life, swaying his arms back and forth and singing or humming in time with the music. And the magic doesn’t end there.

“The effectiveness doesn’t stop,” says Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and author. “Because when the headphones are taken off, Henry, normally mute, virtually unable to answer the simplest yes or no questions, is quite voluble.”

The video shows that after listening to the music, Henry goes on to answer complex questions at length, even bursting into song at the mention of his favorite artist, Cab Calloway.

“In some sense, Henry is restored to himself,” says Dr. Sacks. “He has remembered who he is, and he has reacquired his identity for a while through the power of music.”

Advancing the Person-Centered Approach to Care

Henry is the embodiment of why catch-all approaches do not work for memory care. While Cab Calloway resonated for Henry, another resident may rediscover themselves in Elvis, Cole Porter or Beethoven.

“It’s truly about knowing each individual,” says Urdzik. “At Judson we embrace individuality and preserve the individual’s interests and preferences. We’re always evaluating the best practices in services and offerings in the field of aging to ensure we are at the forefront of memory support needs.

“It’s about knowing our residents and continually bringing community to life in all of our assisted living neighborhoods.”

See how art therapy plays a key role in memory care programming. >>

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