For seniors with Alzheimer's disease, daily care will eventually require 24-hour care by professionals, and finding the right long-term care becomes paramount.
If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, at some point you come to accept the difficult fact that your loved one will need specialized care in a long-term care facility. Alzheimer's is a progressive condition, and those afflicted will eventually become unable to live their life independently. Alzheimer's patients lose their memory and cognitive ability at differing rates, but the heartbreaking and inevitable outcome is that they will eventually lose the ability to recognize people they know or perform basic life functions.
However, as society progresses, so does the level of care for Alzheimer's patients. While science attempts to reverse the effects of Alzheimer's, the long-term care community increases its ability to properly and effectively provide for the needs of those Alzheimer's patients. There are specific Alzheimer's facilities that specialize in the care of Alzheimer's patients, as well as mixed care facilities that offer living arrangements and daily care for people with and without Alzheimer's.
In choosing the right facility for a loved one afflicted by Alzheimer's, there are a number of factors to consider, including the staff, the facility, the programs within the facility, and the type of treatment patients receive.
Factors to Consider When Evaluating Alzheimer's Facilities: The Staff
Of paramount concern should be the level of care the staff provides its patients. First, you will want to make sure that there are Certified Nursing Aides (CNAs) who provide the care to patients. These are the people who will have the most direct interaction with your loved one and possess the ability to make their day comfortable or uncomfortable. You will want to make sure the people caring for your loved one are professional and treat their patients with care and respect.
When visiting Alzheimer's facilities be on the lookout for the following:
- Is there licensed staff on duty at all times?
- How do the residents look? Are they well-groomed and dressed properly? This says volumes about the level of care the staff provides.
- How does management interact with the CNAs? Is respect given in both directions? How management treats their staff can be an indication of how seriously the facility takes the treatment of its patients.
- How does the staff handle situations that arise with residents--are they professional and compassionate?
- What types of activities do the staff plan for its residents?
- Does the staff keep the facility clean and orderly?
While it's not an exhaustive list, these questions should help you to determine whether a specific facility is right for your loved one. Additionally, you should visit Alzheimer's facilities at different times of the day and evening and on different days, to get a better feel for the staff and atmosphere. The staff on duty may be outstanding on some days and less so on others. You'll want to investigate as much as possible to get the most accurate impression.
Everything else flows from the attentiveness, professionalism, and compassion of the facility's staff. A facility could be brand new and be the picture of perfection, but if the staff is subpar, none of that will matter to you or your loved one.
On-Site Medical Care
Related to staffing concerns, you should also investigate the facility's policy for medical care. Alzheimer's patients are overwhelmingly elderly patients who also suffer the physical problems of an elderly person. Find out who will administer drugs as necessary (both Alzheimer-related and for other conditions) and take care of any physical or emotional problems that may arise.
With respect to Alzheimer-related drugs, you should inquire as to the facility's policy on administering behavior-controlling drugs. Late-stage Alzheimer's patients can be aggressive, paranoid, and suffer from anxiety and insomnia. Drugs can suppress some of these symptoms and make life more comfortable for residents, but you obviously don't want your loved ones to be sedated if they don't require it. Ask about the facility policy on dosage and frequency and take a look around at the current residents to confirm what the facility is telling you.
The Condition and Upkeep of Alzheimer's Facilities
In addition to the staff, you should thoroughly investigate the facility itself. The facility should be clean and well organized (which also says volumes about the staff), and appropriately spaced for its residents.
Depending on how far Alzheimer's has progressed, patients will have varying levels of comfort with open or closed spaces. For early to middle stages of Alzheimer's, patients enjoy more open spaces while late-stage patients prefer more constrained areas within which to carry out activities. Whatever your loved one's needs, you should make sure that the facility is safe and has an appropriate level of staff to care for and protect residents. As Alzheimer's disease progresses, patients should have the care they need without the trauma of moving to a new facility. Alzheimer's facilities should be designed for residents to grow older in the same location.
Safety is also a huge concern at Alzheimer's facilities. Because residents will become more forgetful and disoriented as time goes on, the facility should have enough staff to monitor residents and control any unruly behavior. You don't want your loved one to be injured by another resident, or harm themselves or another resident, and you obviously don't want your loved one to be able to wander off the premises alone.
Activities are another important factor in choosing the right long-term care facility. Because Alzheimer's is a disease that attacks the brain, the facility should have special programs and activities which stimulate the mind and encourages interaction. Along with activities that target residents' minds, there should be accompanying physical activities which stimulate hand-eye coordination and general physical stamina. When you visit the facility, you should observe some of these activities and how they are being run by the staff.
You should also investigate through local government agencies and the Better Business Bureau as to any investigations or complaints that have been lodged against a facility. These are obvious red flags against placing your loved one in such facilities. You may also want to check law enforcement agencies to inquire as to any criminal complaints against the facility or staff for issues such as elder abuse or neglect of patients.
Alzheimer's is a terrible and heartbreaking disease, but by taking steps to choose the best long-term care facility for the needs of those afflicted, you can be assured that your loved one is receiving the proper care and attention.
Contact an Attorney
If you are not sure where to turn, or how to handle an elder law issue, an attorney is your first stop. Many offer free phone consultations and can help you understand your options.