“If you start to notice things that make you worry about your aging loved one’s safety, it is probably time to consider taking some steps toward protecting them,” said Jessica Akaah, Senior Vice President of Operations for Autumn Leaves Memory Care which has 40 facilities across Illinois, Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma. There are 10 in the Chicago suburbs, including ones in Arlington Heights, Vernon Hills, St. Charles and Glen Ellyn.
“For instance, if they are still driving and you are worried that they will get lost, it may be time to take away their keys. You don’t have to take away the car itself right away. If someone is experiencing dementia, you can fib for awhile that the keys have been misplaced and in this way, ease their transition,” she advised.
Another sign of dementia can be increasing disorder in the home. Check their refrigerator, Akaah said. “If there is spoiled food in there, they may not be eating correctly and may not be remembering to clear out bad food.”
In addition, take note if they are doing their laundry, washing their dishes and cleaning up their day-to-day clutter. If you notice dishes piled in the sink, days worth of clutter and them wearing dirty clothes (as long as these have not been lifelong habits!), you might want to insert yourself into their daily lives more actively.
If fact, it might be time to disconnect the gas or electric on their stove and oven to prevent them from forgetting to turn these appliances off and causing a house fire or a bad burn.
Likewise, if you notice in conversation that your loved one repeats the same questions over and over and starts worrying about people watching them, listening to them or stealing from them, it is time to consider their mental state, according to Akaah.
“Everyone forgets from time to time, but certain types of forgetfulness point to dementia. Many people with this disease mix up their words or seem to forget people close to them. Usually, however, they forget the person’s name, not their relationship to them. They know the person is their daughter or son, for instance, but they can’t find their name,” she explained. “And many of them seem to have a sense that they are developing this disease, so they begin making excuses.”
When loved ones begin to wander out of their home and get lost in a neighborhood or town that has been familiar to them for years, it is probably time to change their living situation for their own safety.
“Unfortunately, this disease does progress, but often if they move to a memory care facility, the process slows down because they are eating better and staying hydrated and because they become engaged in meaningful activity once again, are less isolated and able to carry on one-on-one conversations more often,” Akaah explained.
Memory care facilities generally offer not only secure living environments, but also programming and activities that stimulate residents’ brains like music therapy and low-intensity exercise.
They encourage residents to walk and sit outdoors to get fresh air and give them small jobs like folding towels and setting the table to preserve their self-esteem and prevent depression among formerly active people who once had busy careers.
“When checking out memory care facilities, be sure to meet not only the executive director, but also the caregiving staff who will be working with your loved one on a daily basis. You can have the prettiest building in the world, but it is the people working there that matter. They need to be able to forge a connection to the residents through compassion, touch and a smiling face, especially as the disease progresses,” Akaah cautioned.
When it comes to a private room or a semi-private room, she said that those choices are generally governed by personal preferences and financial considerations.
“But if you have a choice between a shared room at a better facility and a private room at a less highly rated facility, take the better facility. When it comes right down to it, residents spend very little time in their rooms except when they are sleeping,” she explained.
When you have a loved one with dementia, Akaah advised that family members spend as much time with them as they can and create happy moments, even if the dementia patient doesn’t remember them.
For instance, if your loved one is still able to travel in the car and you can handle taking them to the bathroom and feeding them, by all means, include them in your family’s holiday traditions, she said.
If, however, the disease has progressed beyond the point where you can take them out and another environment would only be confusing to them, visit them at their facility for the holidays because that is probably where they will feel safer and more comfortable, Akaah stated.