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National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month
November 15, 2018

by Bryan McCaleb
President, Sagora Senior Living

November 2018 marked the 35th anniversary of President Reagan designating November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. In 1983, fewer than 2 million Americans age 65 and older had Alzheimer’s. Today, the number is almost 6 million and another 200,000 people under 65.

From personal experience with my Grandmother and as a member of the Board of Directors for the North Central Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, I have learned that Alzheimer’s disease has mercy on no one. It attacks and kills the brain and while a person’s body might be healthy, his or her brain doesn’t allow the individual to remember how their body functions. Alzheimer’s disease is harder than any other disease emotionally and physically for families and other caregivers; however, Memory Care has evolved over the years to help alleviate the challenges to them.

In the first half of the 20th century, most people with dementia were cared for in state mental hospitals. In 1955, elderly people with cognitive diagnoses moved into nursing homes, many of which lacked positive aesthetics and were comprised of identical long corridors with little or no artwork, highly reflective floors, and homogeneous rooms.

The first specialized nursing home setting for people with dementia was created in Philadelphia in the mid-1970s—the Weiss Pavilion. Rather than the normal stark, ward-type atmosphere, only 40 people with dementia lived in a home-like setting with an open floor plan and bedrooms placed around an open pavilion. As researchers observed, they learned that this environment resulted in increased engagement in group activities, decreased negative behaviors, increased ambulation, and increased spontaneous interactions by residents.

The primary focus for caring with people with Alzheimer’s remains and always has been their safety, but this was the first instance of a community working toward the current “people-centered” philosophy of care. It is built around the needs of the person and contingent upon knowing the individual through an interpersonal relationship. Memory Care communities, which were called “Special Care Units” at the time, began to include softer, more domestic finishes and lighting, private resident bedrooms, and common dens, living rooms and kitchens.

Today, Memory Care communities such as Ellery Arbor Memory Care look at each dementia resident as an individual; associates spend time getting to know them, so their care is much more personalized and appropriate. Residents and their loved ones are encouraged to surround the resident with familiar items.

This shift in focus away from the traditional biomedical model in favor of embracing personal choice and autonomy is beneficial for our residents, their loved ones and the associates that care for them. Knowing the person living with dementia and accepting his or her reality leads to effective and empathetic communication, which in turn leads to ongoing opportunities for meaningful engagement. The emphasis in memory care has moved from being concentrated on providing the finest possible care in a safe environment, to including how we can help family members best cope with the effects of the disease.

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