Winter 2018–2019

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Redefining Memory Care: A New Approach to Dementia

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Dementia is a progressive and degenerative brain disorder with symptoms that typically include loss of memory, changes in behavior, and overall cognitive decline. 

When you hear people discussing dementia perhaps the first thing that pops into your mind, like the rest of us, is Alzheimer's disease. In fact, many people mistakenly use the two terms — dementia and Alzheimer's — interchangeably.

To understand the difference, think of how the word cancer is used as a catch-all term, encompassing a long list of different forms of the disease. In the same way, dementia is a group of similar symptoms that can vary slightly based on the cause and the part of the brain that is most affected.

As we begin to understand more and more about the different cognitive conditions, what becomes apparent is that there are many more significant similarities than there are differences.

Where does that leave us?

Perhaps it's time to stop being so concerned about a specific diagnosis and begin focusing on providing the best care possible for those with any type of dementia. We can now focus on finding better ways to connect with Mom or Dad, helping them live a full life despite the disease.

Let's see what that looks like.

Redefining Memory Care for the Individual

If you consider the classrooms of today, over the last several decades educators have realized every child does not learn in the same way. This is the direction some memory care programs are heading.

Although symptoms can be very similar among the various forms, each person diagnosed with dementia is an individual. Rather than offering a generalized program that focuses on a group of people, memory care needs to become person-centric. Spectrum Retirement is moving in that direction.

“What we challenge our communities to do is recognize who the individual is — notice I didn't say was — as a grown adult,” says William Swearingen, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for Spectrum Retirement.

In Spectrum Memory Care Neighborhoods, group activities are designed with the individual in mind. Tasks are customized for each participant. “It allows each resident, based on their level of cognition, as well as their physical abilities, to participate in some aspect of the activity,” explains Swearingen.

Swearingen gives an example involving a group of seniors from a Memory Care neighborhood who participated in a weekly beer brewing activity. At first, residents were taught various processes and those processes were repeated each week. Amazingly, residents (some within four weeks, others within six weeks) began initiating the actions rather than being led to the action. It became a habit, so-to-speak, and a new skill learned.

Psychologist Cameron Camp, Ph.D., is the pioneer of this Montessori-type approach to caregiving. His research is creating some exciting changes in the industry of Memory Care.

A Montessori-Based Approach to Dementia

Most likely you've heard of the Montessori style of teaching. Until recently, the methods have only been used with school-aged children. But through in-depth research, Camp found that the same basic principles of the Montessori method of teaching can also be an effective approach to dementia care. “We want to flip the system on its ear — to change expectations about what people with dementia are capable of,” says Camp.

The results of Camp’s studies are promising. His new approach to learning, called the Montessori-based dementia programming method, has benefited dementia patients at all levels of cognitive impairment. Swearingen points out that Camp’s methods do not reverse the symptoms of dementia or alter the path of the disease.

But it does hold a promise: The lives of people with cognitive decline can be redefined. “The cognitively impaired individual has the capacity to learn new things,” says Swearingen. “And if the individual is living in an environment that is designed for them to be free to explore their own potential, that offers a wonderful silver lining to the life a loved one is capable of living.”

Learn how these methods are being put into action through Spectrum Retirement’s proprietary Path to the Present®-- A Resident-Directed Program.