Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. I experienced it first hand in the final stages of my grandfather’s life. Sometimes he would be gentle and sweet. Other times he would be cruel to the point of causing great fear to my grandmother. When she passed, he couldn’t remember where she went. In those brief moments of clarity, he would remember that she was no longer alive and would start the grieving process all over again.
By no means is my story rare or my family’s struggle unique. More than 5 million Americans are plagued by this disease and one in three seniors ends up dying with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Anyone who has tried to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s knows that you can only fight for so long before you need to call on outside help.
Here are five tips to finding the best Alzheimer’s care for your loved one:
1) Progression of the Disease – The stage of the disease dictates the level of professional care needed. If you or a loved one are in the earlier stages and choose to remain in your home, respite care such as in home help or adult day services may be right for you. In home care allows the patient to reside at home but gives the permanent caregiver a much-needed break by having a professional caregiver tend to the patient. Adult day care services also give the caregiver a break by allowing the patient to be dropped off at a center to participate in activities and games to interact with others with the same difficulties.
If you or your loved one with Alzheimer’s makes the difficult decision to move into a senior living home, then there are several options based on the attention needed. Retirement housing is for those who don’t need constant care and can still live independently. Basic assisted living is for those who can do a majority of their tasks on their own, but more help and attention is available.
The next step is a nursing home (which is also the most expensive) and provides around the clock care and long-term medical attention. (It’s important to note that many nursing homes are not equipped to handle the special needs of an Alzheimer patient and as such, those that do charge considerably more since the nurse to patient ratios are lower.) There are also some facilities available that offer all of the above options. These continuum care retirement communities provide different units for the various progressions of the disease so the patient can remain on the premises without the stress of changing facilities.
Finally, hospice care ensures that the patient is comfortable (whether at home or in a nursing home) during the final stages of the disease.
2) Plan Ahead – Many times we want to avoid a painful subject with the hope that it will get better. Unfortunately, dealing with Alzheimer’s takes monumental strength to face and plan for. While you or your loved one may be in the early stages, it is best to plan ahead so that the patient can be in the best place possible. It takes countless hours to research, visit, and fill out forms for many nursing homes and once you have the best one picked out, they may have a waiting list. Time is of the essence to make sure that when the time comes, the business side is taken care of so you can focus on caring for the patient and making a smooth transition.
3) Costs – When my grandfather needed to be admitted in to a nursing home, I’m not sure what was more stressful: finding a safe and caring one or crunching the numbers to find what we could afford. Alzheimer’s is demanding enough without the added burden of the immense expense. According to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, “The cost for care varies widely depending on the type of facility. The national average cost for basic services in an assisted living facility is $41,724 per year and in a nursing home, it's $78,110 per year for a semi-private room and $87, 235 per year for a private room.”
Find the best facility that you can afford and ask questions about what the fees cover. Many facilities charge extras, so ask first before finding an even bigger bill at the end.
4) You’re Not Alone – With so many people living with Alzheimer’s or taking care of a family member with the disease, it’s no wonder that a plethora of organizations have sprouted up to help those impacted with this illness. The Alzheimer’s Organization (alz.org) provides consultations with clinicians when you have to make tough decisions, they have a ton of information on their website, and they provide connections to support groups for family members. They can help you assess your needs to find the perfect placement for your loved one.
5) Quality of the Facility – Here is a basic list of questions that you should ask upon touring the facility:
What is your nurse to patient ratio for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia?
How many of your daily care providers are licensed nurse practitioners?
If a problem were to arise, how would you subdue a patient?
What recreational/physical activities are provided?
How would you rate the quality of your meals?
How are the rooms furnished? What are we allowed to bring?
Is your staff certified or formally trained in Alzheimer's care?
How long have most of your staff members worked here?
Are staff members consistently assigned to the same patients?
Will my loved one still be able to see their current doctor or will we have to switch to a facility physician?
Now that you have a few informational tips to help make the process a little easier for you and your loved one, you can find & compare assisted living facilities or in home care services for quality Alzheimer’s care in your area.