As memory care professionals, we have a unique call to care for individuals living with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive impairments. This population faces unique challenges, and their families often turn to us when at-home care is no longer an option.

It’s our duty and our privilege to create environments where they thrive, where they are no longer defined by their disease but given the chance to live their life to the fullest and experience moments of joy each and every day.

And although there are dozens of models of memory care programming, one continues to achieve this better than the rest: resident-centered memory care. This model of care, as the name indicates, centers around the resident, with every decision – from programs and events, meals and daily interactions – made with the resident in mind. Associates tailor their schedules to them, not the other way around, and residents are treated as individuals with respect for their unique wants, needs and challenges.

At The Watermark at Vistawilla – and across all Watermark Retirement Communities – this model of care has helped our residents thrive. We’ve seen individuals who were experiencing behavioral issues move into a Watermark community and go months at a time without concern. We see them thrive, experiencing moments of joy on a daily basis. It’s incredibly rewarding to see as a professional but also as someone who cares deeply for residents.

The good news is that the resident-centered care model doesn’t require an extensive overhaul of your memory care program. There are simple ways to adopt this model or integrate parts of it into any memory care setting as soon as today. 

  1. Get to know your residents

Building a relationship with residents and their families is one of the most important things we can do as memory care providers. The more you know about an individual, the more you’re able to enrich his or her life. It is the first step to adopting a successful resident-centered care model. This process should begin before move-in and continue throughout the resident’s time at the community, noting likes, dislikes, preferences and joys.

Before move-in, sit down with the resident’s family and ask about their mom or dad. What are their mom’s or dad’s hobbies? What does a typical day entail for this person? Did he or she work? If so, then what would bring back positive feelings? Favorite foods, music and pastimes all are easy to integrate into the fabric of daily life.

Learning about a resident’s lifetime routine, as well as his or her current routine, will help associates create a schedule that works for the resident. It will also help associates connect in a positive, meaningful way when these memories come up in conversation.

As your team gets to know residents, this information should be updated regularly. Perhaps a resident has found a new hobby or experienced an incredible moment of joy – what caused this, and what did it look like? Knowing this information will help associates recreate that moment and bring joy to residents on a daily basis.

  1. Meet them where they are

Each resident has a unique story and diagnosis. When you focus on the disease, however, you focus on all of the things the resident can’t do rather than on what they can do. It’s our job to treat each resident as an individual and to meet them where they are on a day-to-day basis. This includes participation in daily tasks and routines as well as conversations you may have.

For instance, when buttoning a resident’s sweater, ask the resident to help you. He or she only may button one button, but allowing the resident to participate in the task will give the resident purpose, and having a purpose has been shown to improve quality of life.

This is also important in conversations. Rather than correcting a resident when he or she think it’s Christmas, ask the resident about his or her memories of Christmas morning, and live in that moment with them. This method of therapeutic communication, called validation therapy, places the emphasis on the emotional aspect of the conversation rather than on the factual content and shows respect for the residents’ feelings, memories and beliefs.

  1. Help them connect with old memories and create new ones

As memory care professionals, we pour our hearts and souls into creating meaningful ways for residents to learn, grow and connect with each other, themselves, their families and our associates. This effort should include connecting with their past as well as their present and looking forward to the future.

At Watermark Retirement Communities, one way we do this is through our Personal Pantry Program. Each resident has a basket with his or her favorite snacks as well as photos or memorabilia that provide a fun way for associates and resident families to interact and connect. Perhaps Mom’s favorite snack is an oatmeal pie. When her family members come to visit, they can eat one together and talk about all the memories she has while enjoying them. It’s a simple way to bring joy to the resident and also to make meaningful connections.

Outings and events, such as our Extraordinary Outings, are a great way to create new memories. Events such as a drum circle, or a day trip to a horse farm that offers equine therapy, provide ways for residents to connect to their emotions and create new memories and joy.

These are just a few of the ways that we have implemented the resident-centered care model at Watermark Retirement Communities. In addition, our memory care associates – called Nayas – spend the entire day with residents and truly get to know each individual and share positive outcomes. This model of continuous care also helps associates to notice the early signs of concern that otherwise might go unnoticed when care is divided between multiple staff members.

Our Thrive Dining program also allows residents with cognitive or neuromuscular challenges to eat the same nutritious meals as other residents, in small, hand-held portions. This meal preparation allows residents to maintain their independence and dignity and also reduces unintentional weight loss.

At Watermark Retirement Communities, we are committed to dramatically improving the quality of life of the residents we serve by supporting not only their physical and intellectual health but also their emotional and spiritual well-being. The resident-centered care model has made meeting this goal possible. We hope that others will fund this information useful as we create communities where residents thrive.