Memory care is specialized treatment for people living with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia or a brain injury. As Alzheimer’s disease symptoms progress, a patient will eventually need more care than a caregiver can provide at home.
What is Memory Care and Who Does it Serve?
Memory care involves long-term, intensive residential care that’s provided in a skilled nursing facility with memory care, an assisted living facility, a continuing care retirement community, and a nursing home. Memory care services should be explored when an individual demonstrates confusion in their daily life; neglects their personal care; shows signs of agitation, aggression, or violence; suffers from social isolation; or faces safety risks, such as falls, injuries in their home environment, or potential to wander and become lost.
Memory care communities provide a secure environment where residents can strengthen their cognitive abilities through specially designed programs. Memory-enhancing activities and therapies can help delay further cognitive decline while addressing patients’ emotional and behavioral needs. The staff in these communities have expertise in handling the many challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and are trained to work with patients who often struggle with Alzheimer’s behavioral symptoms, mood swings, disorientation, and even delirium.
A New Approach to Treatment: How a Memory Care Community Can Help
A memory care community is uniquely designed to support the needs of patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. The creation of a special community within assisted living memory care facilities provides intensive care for people with memory loss issues in these three ways:
Comprehensive support is integral to memory care, which is why a memory care community typically provides a low staff-to-resident ratio. Patients are encouraged to be active and generally have access to a range of tailored services. Specialized caregivers can assist with practical activities of daily living, such as dining, bathing, dressing, and toileting.
To minimize stress, highly structured routines are built into the day to day of memory care. In addition, the environment itself will incorporate cues to minimize confusion, such as clearly labeled doors and rooms that ease navigation.
Memory care facilities provide 24/7 supervision and medication management. This includes measures to help eliminate the likelihood of an individual wandering and becoming lost.
Understanding More About Memory Care Patients
The confusion many people have between Alzheimer’s and dementia care is understandable, as Alzheimer’s is both the most common cause of dementia and one (but not the only) form of dementia. Dementia is the name for a group of brain disorders that make it hard to remember, think clearly, make decisions, or control one’s emotions. Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is caused by damage to brain cells that affects thinking, behavior, and feelings.
Although Alzheimer’s makes up an estimated 60 to 80 percent of overall dementia cases, it’s not the only form of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, while dementia is not. Common signs of Alzheimer’s Disease are similar to signs of dementia in the elderly and include:
- Being confused about where one is or what day or year it is
- Having problems speaking or writing
- Losing things and being unable to backtrack to find them
- Showing poor judgment
- Having mood and personality changes
There are many other forms of dementia with different causes and different stages of dementia. The symptoms for those forms of dementia may or may not overlap with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. For example, a vascular dementia diagnosis typically indicates someone has suffered a stroke. Although later symptoms often include memory problems, initial symptoms are more likely to include things such as poor judgment and trouble planning.
Dementia With Lewy bodies (DWB) occurs when Lewy bodies— microscopic protein deposits in the brain—form and impair cognitive function. In addition to the memory loss and decisionmaking challenges found in Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, a Lewy body dementia diagnosis can also be the cause of hallucinations, daytime sleepiness, and physical movement issues, such as trembling or slowness. Patients with Parkinson’s disease have a 50 to 80 percent chance of developing Parkinson’s disease dementia, which is similar to DWB.
Memory care for dementia patients depends on the specific type of dementia a patient is suffering from and the associated symptoms. The good news is that, unlike Alzheimer’s, some forms of dementia may benefit from steps taken to slow the progression of the disease. For example, addressing the underlying cause of the vascular disease may help slow the progression of vascular dementia.
Sundowner’s Syndrome in Patients with Dementia
Sundowner’s syndrome (or sundowning) is the commonly used term for the sudden appearance or worsening of neuropsychiatric symptoms in the late afternoon. Although it can occur in older people without dementia, Sundowner’s Syndrome may affect up to 66% of people with dementia. Doctors are still not sure why Sundowner’s Syndrome occurs, but there are several factors that seem to exacerbate it:
- Low lighting and shadows in the evening
- Fatigue, or a disrupted “body clock”
- Infections, such as a urinary tract infection
- Excessive hunger or thirst
- Depression or boredom
Any physical cause that increases the patient’s difficulties in distinguishing dreams from reality can make it more likely for them to experience Sundowner’s Syndrome.
What’s New with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease Research?
A combination of risk factors, rather than genetics alone, causes most cases of dementia. That said, there are some forms of dementia where genetics play a key role, and scientists are using that information to search for ways to address the disease, to explore what causes Alzheimer’s Disease, and to uncover methods for Alzheimer’s Disease prevention.
- Researchers at the UK Dementia Research Institute at Cardiff University identified 42 new genes connected to Alzheimer’s, many clustered into several suspected but unconfirmed pathways (including the immune system) for disease development. “The new risk variants identified in the present study are significantly associated with progression to Alzheimer’s disease,” according to the study, published in the journal Nature Genetics.
- At the Boston University School of Medicine, researchers created a computer algorithm based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can accurately predict the risk for and diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. The algorithm uses a combination of brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and testing to measure cognitive impairment, along with data on age and gender.
- Researchers in South Korea studied the effect of using diabetes drugs called DDP-4 inhibitors among older people who’d been having memory issues and found it typically “showed a slower progression in those symptoms over the next few years.” Individuals who took the DDP-4 inhibitors also showed smaller amounts of the “plaques” that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’spatients. However, experts cautioned that the findings do not prove the drugs can prevent or delay dementia.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Aduhelm (aducanumab) for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. This is the first FDA-approved therapy to address the underlying biology of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the FDA, “It is the first therapy to demonstrate that removing betaamyloid, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, from the brain is reasonably likely to reduce cognitive and functional decline in people living with early Alzheimer’s.”
- Emerging data has suggested thatpeople who are infected with HSV1 are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. But these results should be interpreted cautiously because there is no certainty as to which biological phenomena might be responsible for this connection. According to research, “A biological framework called the “microcompetition model” may explain why people infected with herpes simplex 1 (HSV1) are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”
- At the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, researchers investigated the ability of the MIND diet to improve cognitive function in older adults,independent of brain pathology levels. Some previous studies suggested that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet could improve cognitive function. As a result of the previous research, those two diets have been combined to create a hybrid MIND diet that is specifically designed to improve brain health. Leafy green vegetables, berries, legumes, fish, nuts, and whole grains are the foundation of the MIND diet, which limits the consumption of butter, cheese, and red meat. Summarizing the research’s findings, first study author Dr. Klodian Dhana, Ph.D., said, “We found that a higher MIND diet score was associated with better cognitive function independently of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and other common age-related brain pathologies, suggesting that adherence to the MIND diet may build cognitive resilience in older adults.”
- Excessive drinking has long been known to correlate with dementia, but the results of a joint study by Inserm and UCL have also shown that moderate drinking (defined as fewer than 14 units of alcohol a week) might have some positive effects on cognitive function. A more recent study concluded that the “findings from middle- and old-aged individuals with neither dementia nor alcohol-related disorders suggest that moderate lifetime alcohol intake may have some beneficial influence on AD by reducing pathological amyloid deposition rather thanamyloidindependent neurodegeneration or cerebrovascular injury.” However, other research indicates that excessive alcohol use increases the risk for health problems relating to the brain, consequently, making the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease higher.
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