At Home Or Away? Choosing The Right Living Setting For Alzheimer’s Patients

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In recent years, a growing number of seniors have prioritized aging in place – remaining in their homes, even as they require home modifications or assistance to live independently, and for many, this has worked well. For older adults with Alzheimer’s, however, living at home is not always an option. To keep these individuals safe, families may have to make challenging decisions, up to and including choosing an institutional placement.

How can families decide where their loved one with Alzheimer’s should live? Though it’s a difficult and deeply personal decision, understanding the different options can help you make an informed decision.

The Home Environment

Many people with Alzheimer’s can successfully live at home, with some support, during the first few years of the condition’s progression. In order to do so, however, families need to carefully manage the home environment. This may include installing smart home technology, like timed or motion-sensitive lights, remote cameras, and a security system. These tools can help family members check in on relatives, provide lighting to prevent falls, and otherwise offer support for an individual having occasional memory lapses. 

In addition to the use of smart home technology, families may wish to make other modifications to the home, such as installing grab bars in the bathroom and removing slip hazards like loose rugs. Simple modern services like meal delivery, or even today’s popular meal kits, can help simplify cooking for those who remain largely independent.

Aging Together

Another popular housing option for seniors, including those with mild dementia, are independent living facilities. These facilities are meant for those who are largely independent, but who want to be freed from major responsibilities like cooking and housekeeping. Though Alzheimer’s patients will need to transition out of such facilities eventually, since they will require more daily living support as the condition progresses, such facilities are optimal for those in the early stages of the condition, since socializing and staying engaged can slow the disease’s progression.

Greater Degrees Of Care

As time goes on and Alzheimer’s patients require more intensive care to keep them comfortable and safe, families will have to consider other living options, including personal care homes, nursing homes, and memory care facilities, each of which offers distinctive services. At personal care homes, for example, Alzheimer’s patients who have progressed to needing help with personal hygiene can receive that added level of care, in addition to support with laundry, cooking, and housekeeping. Personal care homes don’t provide significant medical care, but they’re an excellent choice for those who struggle with some ADLs or who suffer from incontinence, which is common in Alzheimer’s patients.

Unlike personal care homes, nursing homes are equipped to provide long-term medical care. These facilities aren’t always the best choice for Alzheimer’s patients who are otherwise healthy, since they don’t specialize in memory issues, but for those with relatively advanced memory loss – which often comes with limited mobility, difficulty swallowing, and other health problems – they can be a good fit.

Finally, the most specialized facilities for Alzheimer’s patients are memory care units, which are secure facilities staffed by individuals trained in dementia care. Because Alzheimer’s patients may experience personality changes that make them combative or otherwise difficult to handle, this type of special training can be vital to defusing moments of conflict. The fact that memory care units are secure is also important, as many dementia patients are prone to wandering and can easily get lost.

There is rarely a single right choice when it comes to caring for a loved one with dementia. Rather, the best option is the one that makes them feel secure, which meets their medical and interpersonal needs, and which allows your family to remain engaged in their care and daily life. Family relationships are critical for dementia patients, often acting as a tether for memory. Whatever you choose, if you stay close by and communicate with your loved one and their caregivers, you can ensure they have an excellent quality of life, regardless of Alzheimer’s disease.