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Creating a Successful Living Environment for Seniors with Dementia

2012-04-24

By Todd A. Shetter, Chief Operating Officer of ActivCare Living, Inc.

Many of us have moved away from comfortable homes or traveled away from our familiar home settings long enough or often enough to "miss home." The word "home" stirs familiar and warm feelings. When dementia strikes, home is no longer that safe, comfortable and familiar place. If every morning brings a perceived unfamiliar location it can be very frightening and confusing. Fortunately there are successful and easy-to-implement ways to create comfort and security at home.

Environments for those with dementia become very important in the overall well-being and success of each day when providing support and care of those whose reality orientation re-sets frequently. Some of the keys to a successful physical surrounding may sound simple, but are many times overlooked both at home and in larger senior care communities. To create a secure and comfortable environment, follow these four straightforward rules.

Rule 1: Simple is always better. One central gathering area for meals, activities and exercise is much better than three separate rooms in various locations for each event. For someone with dementia, a small achievement such as getting somewhere on their own can lead to fulfillment.

Rule 2: Provide visual cues that are large, colorful and familiar. With dementia, it is easy to get disoriented. ActivCare Communities use large, colorful murals that relate to the framed art work down each corridor to help guide residents. A resident with dementia may not remember they live in the 300 Wing, but they are more likely to recognize the patriotic posters, US flags and colorful art work that was started in the Great Room and remained consistent all the way down the hall to the outside of their room. These visual cues are very effective and can be duplicated at home. Post large signs in colorful writing above bathrooms, sleeping rooms and closets.

Rule 3: Create a safe and secure environment with freedom of movement. We all need room to roam. Those affected by dementia are no different. Being in one room or one location for long periods of time makes us restless. Create a safe zone both indoors and outdoors for roaming. If the house has a fence surrounding the yard and has front and back gates make sure the gates are locked, but allow the doors to the yard to remain open or unlocked. Clear unnecessary clutter from regularly traveled walking paths to bathrooms, through hallways and leading to patios. Provide free and easy access to the inside and outside within that safe zone. Stopping the resident who needs to meander and walk will only cause confrontation and conflict. Prepare a protected environment for them to walk and meander safely.

Rule 4: Be consistent and predictable. Routine and consistency with meals, baths, and bed time breed familiarity. ActivCare programming is planned and carried out every day in 30 to 60 minute increments. From getting up in the morning to getting ready for bed at night, the day is planned and programmed. Exercise is led in the same location, meals at the same tables and sing-alongs always happen at the half circle of chairs in the same location in the Great Room. This is another visual trigger for the brain that has lost the short-term recall. Chairs in a half circle mean singing, tables set with plates and silverware mean meal time and that familiar music means time for exercise.

Simple cues and routines can make a world of difference in creating resident comfort and decreasing anxiety. We want those afflicted with dementia to always feel safe, comfortable and in control of their involvement. If we create an environment that is simple, warm and appealing then there is less to interpret or figure out. Smiling faces, familiar greeting and warm touch can then be a bridge to moving into the next routine or task.

About ActivCare

ActivCare Living develops and manages communities designed to enhance the lives of those with memory loss. Whether in the early or late stages of memory loss, ActivCare's purpose-built communities, propriety programs, experienced staff and compassionate care offer a new life to affected individuals and hope to their families. For more information about ActivCare Living and its communities, please contact 888-MEM-LOSS.