In the field of aging services today, a confluence of factors is creating an imperative to move the needle toward more forward-thinking dementia care. These factors — the increase in the number of people living with dementia (PLWD), societal attitudes about them, and the proliferation of memory care programs — constitute a call to action to create more relationship-rich, person-directed approaches to care.

The first of these factors is the sheer number of PLWD. According to the 2018 World Alzheimer’s Report, 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia today, and this number will more than triple to 152 million by 2050.

In addition, a majority of residents in assisted living and nursing homes are living with cognitive changes. A study published in 2014 in Health Affairs found that 70% of assisted living residents have some form of dementia, whereas according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of nursing home residents are affected by it.

Given these figures, it is not surprising that services for PLWD is poised to be a large growth area soon. In fact, McKnight’s Senior Living reported that a 2018 senior housing and care survey found that the number of memory care beds will expand rapidly in the coming years.

The final and crucial factor at play in this convergence are ever-present perceptions about older adults. Adding dementia to this mix only amplifies ageist attitudes, discrimination and stereotyping. In fact, PLWD report being misunderstood because of the myths and misconceptions others have about the disease.  

These dynamics require all long-term and post-acute care providers to consider the following:

  1. The line between “memory care” as a separate and distinct service in assisted living communities and nursing homes soon will be blurred and eventually will disappear as it becomes more and more obvious that dementia care should be an integral component of all training and education for anyone who works in the field of aging services.
  2. To properly educate and train staff (as well as families) to ensure the provision of high-quality care for PLWD, providers in all settings and categories must acknowledge the damaging stigma that is attached to dementia. Real emotional and social implications are affiliated with having cognitive impairment. Therefore, providers must begin with an examination of our own fears and misperceptions about dementia and reflect on how these affect PLWD.
  3. Most traditional models of dementia care focus on residents’ inabilities and losses and on mitigating problem “behaviors.” More progressive and innovative approaches, on the other hand, explore the often-unrecognized biases that shape interactions with PLWD and help direct care staff learn a whole new way to engage with each elder by focusing on the building blocks of culture, meaningful engagements and health and well-being.

These and other issues form the basis for why the Green House Project created its Best Life dementia care approach, which follows four principles:

  • The Power of Normal: Create a culture of normalcy to allow for individuals to live in the least-restrictive environment possible and experience culturally typical activities; recognize no cure exists, so we only can create a culture that will support PLWD to have choice and dignity.
  • Focus on Retained Abilities: It is a myth that PLWD do not have retained abilities and talents and cannot continue to experience and learn new things. Focus on the value of our ability to experience real relationships with pets, nature and people of all ages.
  • Dignity of Risk: Illuminate the reality that there is dignity in enabling PLWD the right to take risks.
  • Advocacy: PLWD should not be defined by their diagnoses. We must advocate for everyone to have expanded experiences and choices as well as the right for rehabilitation.

These principles help to ensure that all PLWD are viewed by their accomplishments so they can thrive beyond their diagnoses and live rich and rewarding lives.

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