Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects millions of people. The disease comes with challenges for both patients and their loved ones. For many people with Alzheimer’s, it becomes necessary to relocate to a specialized care facility eventually.
Noticing the Signs of Alzheimer’s
In its earliest stages, Alzheimer’s can look like the kind of memory loss that is normal with aging. It’s important to notice how frequently memory lapses occur to track if it might be a sign of Alzheimer’s. In addition to memory loss, other things to look out for include:
- difficulty with problem solving
- having trouble learning new things
- forgetting how to do tasks done many times before
- repeating phrases or stories
- difficulty making decisions
- having trouble when handling money
- confusion about time and place
- a struggle to remember the right word
- losing things more often
- poor judgement
- withdrawal from social activities
- emotional upset or personality changes
If you are uncertain if the changes you are seeing are attributable to aging or might point to Alzheimer’s, you can use this comparison chart from the Alzheimer’s Association.
If you do suspect Alzheimer’s, the next step is to get a diagnosis from a specialist. There is no definitive diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s, but a diagnosis can be reached by a variety of examination techniques and tests to rule out other causes. Interviews with family and friends may also be part of the diagnosis process.
After the Diagnosis
Once a diagnosis has been reached, it doesn’t necessarily need to mean an immediate change in lifestyle. Many patients are able to remain in their homes, though family members and friends will need to be involved to make the home a safe environment.
Getting an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be emotionally stressful for both the patient and loved ones. Allowing the patient to hold on to some independence in the early stages can make the process easier.
As the disease progresses, though, some big changes will likely need to be made. For some, in-home care from a home health service is a good complement to care from family members. For many, a care facility that specializes in Alzheimer’s may eventually be the best option.
First Steps Towards Finding a Facility
Before you begin looking for a facility, it’s important to take careful stock of the situation and the particular needs of the patient. You should consider all of the challenges and the level of care currently needed.
Be brutally honest with your assessment rather than sugarcoating the situation. Ask yourself about the patient’s overall needs in the following areas:
- Health: Are there mobility issues? Toileting issues? Other specialized care needs like diabetic treatment or care for another condition?
- Safety: Is wandering off an issue? How much supervision is needed?
- Personal Care: Does the patient need help with basic care activities like bathing and dressing?
- Social Needs: How socially engaged is the patient? Does the patient still participate in meaningful activities? Would being surrounded by other Alzheimer’s patients have a positive or a negative impact?
Having a clear picture of the patient’s current care and needs will help you find the best possible facility for your particular situation.
Top Features to Look For
When considering an Alzheimer’s care facility, these are some of the top features to look for:
- flexibility that will allow family to visit at any time
- a convenient location for loved ones
- caring and competent staff
- a warm, inviting environment with the comforts of home, including good food
- a variety of complementary therapies and programs available to residents
How to Choose & Pay for Care
Another important factor to consider when choosing a facility is cost. Alzheimer’s care can be pretty expensive, so it’s important to find a facility that works with your budget and your insurance plan.
The cost of care will likely be covered in part by your Medicare, Medicaid, or other forms of insurance, including long-term care insurance. The remainder of the cost will need to be paid out of pocket.
Some facilities are willing to negotiate price somewhat, so if a facility is just a bit out of your price range, it doesn’t hurt to see if there is any wiggle room.
Important Questions to Ask
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential facilities, it’s important to get answers to several questions from each facility in order to see which one is the best fit.
- What level of care does the facility provide?
- How are medical emergencies handled?
- What level of training does the staff have?
- How much personal assistance can residents expect?
- What kind of security does the facility have?
- What is the ratio of staff to residents? Is this the same day and night?
- What kinds of programs (social activities, exercise classes, physical therapy, entertainment, music therapy, pet therapy, art therapy, etc.) are offered?
- What is the monthly rate and what services are included? What is the fee structure?
- How does the facility communicate with family members about the resident? How often can family members expect to hear from the facility?
- Are residents grouped by level of care needed based on a cognitive level?
- Is specialized care provided for things like diabetes, Parkinson’s, or physical aggressiveness?
- Is there a discharge policy? What does it entail?
- How often are housekeeping and laundry services provided?
- How many and what kinds of personal effects can a resident bring?
- Are there individualized care plans for each patient?
- Can you arrange outside, visiting care for the resident?
- Is there an onsite or visiting physician?
- What is the overall philosophy of care?
In addition to getting answers to these questions, ask for references. This should include talking to family members of other residents, if possible. Check to make sure that appropriate licensing checks out.
Your gut reaction when talking to the providers and visiting the facility is important to take note of. Pay attention to the staff and how they interact with residents. Eat a meal while there, if you can, to get an idea of the dining experience and food quality. If anything about the visit doesn’t feel right, keep looking.
Alzheimer’s can be a devastating disease, but finding a good care facility can make the experience a bit easier to bear. Knowing the patient is in a safe environment with the level of care they need can give loved ones’ peace of mind.
When freed from the full-time role of caregiving, loved ones are able to be more fully present to connect with their loved one while visiting.