8 Things Every Senior Living Associate Needs to Know About Dementia Care

8 Things Every Senior Living Associate Needs to Know About Dementia Care

Whether you’re a CEO, business office manager, or housekeeper, you need to know eight things about caring for residents with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).

  1. Memory Loss is Not a Normal Part of Aging. That’s right, just because you get older does not necessarily mean you will have memory loss. Memory abilities do change with normal aging to some extent, but they are much more affected by the changes in the brain that happen with illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
  1. Alzheimer’s disease is a Physical Disease Process. Many people misinterpret some of the behaviors seen by individuals with ADRD as a form of mental illness or acting out. I have even heard Alzheimer’s residents described as being manipulative and intentionally disruptive. Our brains are responsible for controlling everything we do throughout the day including mobility, motor function, hunger, thirst, feelings, thinking, and emotion. Alzheimer’s disease leads to nerve cell and tissue loss throughout the brain. Over time, the brain shrinks dramatically. We wouldn’t ask someone with a broken arm to lift a large, heavy box – but often times we will ask those with ADRD: “What did you have for dinner?”
  1. Every Resident Goes Through the Disease Process Differently. We all have different perspectives, experiences, interests, and personalities. Even though the disease affects certain areas of the brain, each individual can experience different symptoms, reactions, and behaviors. As a wonderful mentor once told me, “If you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s disease, you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s disease.”
  1. Negatives only Produce Negatives. Because ADRD impacts areas of the brain that control judgement, reasoning, perception, and sequencing, individuals with ADRD can often act in an unsafe manner. For example, wanting to go outside in a winter storm without a coat or shoes. But saying “no,” “stop,” or “don’t” will only aggravate the situation. Reasoning may not always be a practical approach.
  1. Knowing the Resident is Key in Providing Quality Care. The more we know about the resident—their likes and dislikes, their history, their life story—the easier it is to provide them with moments of joy and success as well as better outcomes in managing challenging behaviors.
  1. Great Care Starts with Being Resident-Focused versus Task-Focused. The goal for each day should not be to check off a list of duties. Success should not be measured by showers, meal intake, or med reminders. A successful day for a resident is the opportunity to have choice, be successful, be loved and respected, and experience joy.
  2. Choice and Control are Key. Providing residents with opportunities for choice and control allows resident to feel good about themselves. This helps decrease the level of frustration. Oftentimes, caregivers will place a specific drink at a resident’s table setting knowing they like orange juice at breakfast. But allowing a resident to choose their morning drink, or depending on their level of functioning, to say “yes” to a glass of orange juice gives them choice and control in an environment where they have very little of those.
  3. You Can’t Take Great Care of Residents if You are Not Taking Great Care of Yourself. Working with individuals with ADRD takes a lot of patience, calm demeanor, humor, and did I mention patience? It can be a difficult role at times. It’s important to care for yourself and recognize when you are getting impatient and frustrated.
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Top 4 “Must Haves” Memory Care Benefits

By the time that families start researching memory care communities, they have usually done everything humanly possible to keep their loved one safely at home.  They have worked their way through adult day care, homecare, household safety retrofits, support groups and huge doses of family participation in meal preparation, personal care, transportation, medication management and socialization.  At some point, their heroic efforts leave them exhausted, stressed out, frustrated, and open to other solutions.  That is when our phones ring.

Our job is to listen, empathize and understand that each person and their story because each situation is unique.  It is important to acknowledge the family involvement and honor their successes.  It is a very emotional decision to entrust a precious loved one who lacks the ability to advocate for themselves to unrelated caregivers.

Here are some benefits that every memory care program must have to reassure families as they work through this difficult decision.

1. An Environment That Supports The Success of The Residents

It is very difficult to adapt a typical residential home environment for seniors with Alzheimer’s as it progresses since the disease creates unique impairments requiring a specialized environment.  Residents thrive when they can navigate their environment independently and successfully.  Visual impairments can be a barrier so ensuring that lighting, floor covering, color contrast and appropriate tableware & utensils are integrated into the environment is key.

It is best to avoid:

  • Carpets with flowers or patterns (residents may perceive these as something to pick up)
  • Wallpaper and murals (residents may perceive these as something to pick at)
  • Carpets with borders (residents may perceive these as holes or gaps)

It is best to include:

  • Adaptive lighting to simulate natural outdoor lighting patterns to reduce sundowning.
  • Even lighting so there are no dark patches in the hallways.
  • Contrasting paint color behind toilets, & contrasting toilet seats to visually distinguish the toilet and sink to encourage independence & success.
  • Contrasting table cloths and dishware to encourage independence & success during meals.

2. A Memory Care Culture of Choice and Accessibility

As much as possible, present opportunities for the residents to make choices to foster independence and respect – even non-verbal residents can point.  We had one resident who wanted only to wear her favorite yellow dress and became agitated and unhappy if it was in the laundry.  So we had her family go shopping for a selection of yellow dresses and take home everything else.  Every morning she was able to choose from a selection of yellow dresses and that solved the problem.  Choices should be allowed about when to get up in the morning, what to wear, what to eat and drink and how to spend their day.  Resident Choice Dining involves preparing two plates and offering options for residents to select.  It takes a small amount of time and effort to set up, but once it is implemented, food costs and labor is budget neutral.  Likewise, always keep back up supplies to make a sandwich, toast or a snack and have these available for the overnight shift in case a resident wakes up hungry at night.

3. Personalized Programming Based on Each Resident’s Background & Life Story

One of the greatest fears expressed by families is that the staff will not know or understand the needs of their loved one.  They are convinced that no one will be able to care for their loved one like the family does.  We had a resident who opened the first pre-school in town and every morning she would wander the halls looking for the children.  The program director went to a yard sale and picked up an old school desk & chair and reading primers.  She also encouraged the staff to bring in their children’s artwork and homework so there was always something waiting on her desk that was placed right outside her apartment door.  Mornings were much better for this resident and the staff. So, it is important to have tools and systems in place to capture the essence of every resident including:

  • Meeting with the family to capture a personal life history to learn the familiar people, places, hobbies, routines, schedule, interests, career, family members, and social and spiritual preferences.  Use this to create a personalized care plan & schedule.
  • Keeping a binder of the life stories for the staff to review, and coach them on how to incorporate this in personalizing the approach for care and interaction.
  • Have a pre-move-in team meeting to plan a successful transition.

4. Dedicated and Trained Memory Care Staff

Families work hard to provide care with little formal training, previous experience or respite.  It is easier for them to entrust their loved one to a community with dedicated, trained staff rather than a rotating schedule of changing relationships.  Being able to demonstrate that staff is selected to work with memory-impaired residents and that there is comprehensive and ongoing training provided will increase confidence.  Technology is great, but nothing comes close to the impact of a caring, committed staff with the skills and competency to manage residents throughout the disease process.


 Does your community have difficulty performing any of these “must have” benefits? Let’s Chat!

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Senior Living Sales Strategies: Selling Memory Care

There is a reason that a family member decided to pick up the phone when they did and call you. Finding out the reason is key in selling memory care. Here are the six senior living sales strategies to remember when selling memory care:

1. Listen, Listen, Listen, and then Listen Some More.

  • Allow the family time to vent and explain their frustrations.
  • Make sure to give them an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Ask open-ended discovery questions. This will give you more information regarding their situation and concerns.
  • Learn about the potential resident and stress points. Why did they pick up the phone and call you?

2. Selling Memory Care – Educate and Inform.

  • The more they understand, the more control families have over the decision making process.
  • Don’t overwhelm families with too much information.
  • Use different resources. Some people learn more from books and pamphlets, others from videos or lectures.
  • Build a resource library with plenty of helpful guides, blog posts, and other premium content.
  • Offer support groups and educational programs.

3. Senior Living Sales Strategies: Help Solve Their Problems.

  • Reduce stress during the decision making process – providing the right amount of support.
  • Offer respite services.
  • Know your Community Resources:
    • Alzheimer’s Association
    • Elder Law Attorneys
    • Counseling Professionals
    • Geriatric Medicine Professionals

4. Listen…Yes Again! Mark Twain once said, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you say.”

  • Listen to what is being said as well as what is left unsaid.
  • Don’t jump to fill pauses in the conversation.

5. Remember it’s an Emotional Process.

  • Families may not always be rational. Provide patience and don’t judge.
  • The decision to call you is often filled with guilt. Guilt can be the main hurdle to overcome.

6. It’s All About the People.

  • Physical Environment is important – but it’s all about who is going to be taking care of mom.
  • Engage with residents and associates on tour.

Things to keep in mind during the tour and move-in process:

  • Encourage families to make a decision before a crisis (fall, wandering) occurs.
  • Make the decision process less daunting by providing support for the Move-In process.
  • Recognize and understand what each family is going through and recognize that each family and each situation is unique.
  • You do this every day – for families, the tour and move-in process is often unknown and overwhelming.

Senior Living Sales Strategies Need to Be Aligned with Marketing!

That’s precisely where we can help! Get in touch and let’s discuss your sales and marketing needs.