Choosing a senior living community is an important decision, and families should consider both current and future needs as they evaluate choices. A good memory support program can be just as crucial for people who are independent with no cognitive issues as it is for those who have already experienced some memory loss. Changes in the brain can begin as early as two decades before symptoms actually appear, but regular mental and physical exercise can help build cognitive reserve that is helpful even when some loss has occurred.
With the aging of baby boomers, longer life spans, and better diagnostic criteria, the demand for memory support will increase over time. Based on recent statistics released by the Alzheimer’s Association, one in nine people aged 65+, and one-third of people 85+ have Alzheimer’s disease. By 2025, those 65+ with Alzheimer’s will increase by 40-percent.
Experts say that not all memory programs are equal. Finding the right fit can make a big difference in quality of life. Asking the right questions is the first step. According to Beverly Sanborn, Belmont Village Senior Living gerontologist, six factors should be considered:
Staff, Training, Resident Group, Program, Environment, and Evaluation.
“Watch the staff to see if they have an aptitude for compassionate care – do they see the world through the eyes of the resident when problem-solving?” Sanborn says. “Ask how the staff works as a team; watch their reactions to residents’ behaviors – you should see curiosity, not judgment. Ideal programs have an activity director and a nurse 24/7. In the secured neighborhood for later stages, staff ratios should be higher than in the assisted living areas.”
Sanborn also recommends observing a resident group to see the programs and environment. “Clusters of residents, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, are best. Clusters can vary depending on the activity, but are generally based on mental and physical functioning, along with resident interests and preferences,” Sanborn says. “Memory programs need to be highly enjoyable, therapeutic, and have measurable objectives. Activities should be neither over nor under-stimulating and should offer something new to the brain with a mental stretch.”
Finally, Sanborn says to ask about how progress is evaluated, “Programs need on-going evaluations and data collection to record mental and physical progress using accepted research measurements.”
In 2005, Belmont Village launched Circle of Friends® for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Adding this additional program tier allows each resident to achieve what Sanborn calls “the just right challenge.” Residents with MCI can remain in their assisted living apartments and lead purposeful lives through the 7-day-a-week staffed program of research-based group activities. For more information about Belmont Village, please visit belmontvillage.com or call an area community: Burbank (818) 972-2405; Encino (818) 788-8870; Hollywood (323) 874-7711; Westwood (310) 475-7501.