Paul Tanico headshot
Paul Tanico

Dementia, a complex and challenging condition, casts a profound effect on residents within senior living communities and other long-term care settings. Beyond the emotional toll on residents and families, dementia strains the resources and resilience of caregiving staff.

Approximately 818,000 people live in assisted living communities, and more than 42% of them have dementia, according to the US government. In nursing homes, an estimated 750,000 individuals have dementia diagnoses, translating to half of all residents.

For community leadership and staff members, a need exists for a greater understanding of the multifaceted aspects of dementia care to enhance residents’ quality of life and minimize the stress on resources, as well as elevate its reputation within the community, all of which can lead to increased census. 

Conducting cognitive assessments and forming care plans

Understanding the cause of dementia can be critical to care plan implementation that aims to improve resident quality of life and reduce stress on staffing resources. Cognitive assessments, which are reimbursed by Medicare, are a critical starting point in identifying dementia. They can be performed remotely by clinical and medical staff or even outsourced.

A concerning gap exists in their implementation, however, as revealed by a study from the University of Michigan showing that 59% of older adults report never having a screening for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and 80% of older adults report not having one in the past year. Despite patient interest in modifying lifestyles for cognitive health, the full potential of those assessments remains untapped.

Results from such screenings can help staff members develop care plans for their residents, taking into consideration that lifestyle interventions such as low-impact physical activity and mental stimulation have demonstrated success in preventing dementia. In fact, population health studies suggest that 40% of dementia cases could be prevented by focusing on modifiable risk factors. The challenge is to integrate those interventions seamlessly, balancing cost-effectiveness with efficiency.

The value of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis: A Compass for care

As Alzheimer’s is a progressive form of dementia, early detection empowers patients, caregivers and the broader care team to plan effectively, and it allows senior living providers to save time and money. Although Alzheimer’s may not be reversible, an accurate diagnosis can signal care teams to implement lifestyle changes to slow its progression.

In the pursuit of an accurate Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the DISCERN test emerges as a valuable tool. A simple skin punch test, covered by Medicare, offers a reliable means of informing diagnoses. Beyond the clinical aspect, understanding Alzheimer’s has significant implications for patients and families, shaping care plans and fostering a supportive environment.

Expert insights: Unlocking the potential of dementia care

In a conversation with Joseph Weeks, an expert in long-term care facility management, the intricate web of dementia care unfolds. Recognizing dementia’s presence and understanding its nuances prove pivotal for the well-being of residents, the satisfaction of families and the reputation of the facility within the community.

Weeks emphasizes that effective dementia management is intertwined with providing a better quality of life for residents.

“By reducing the burden on staff, building confidence among families and fostering a positive environment, facilities can solidify their standing in the community,” he explains. “Dementia care is not just a duty — it is also a strategic move as it allows for partnerships, enhances the facility’s image and becomes a beacon for those seeking advanced memory care.”

A holistic approach to dementia care

Amidst the complex landscape of dementia, questions arise about the value of a diagnosis and the role of non-pharmaceutical treatments. Other treatment options including lifestyle changes and cognitive interventions, emerge as a hopeful avenue for those who are ineligible for drug treatments.

A holistic approach to dementia care can encourage staff members to embrace the economic benefits of reimbursed programs while recognizing the moral imperative of keeping residents and families informed. By adopting a comprehensive strategy that balances clinical insights, lifestyle interventions and economic considerations, staff members can unlock the potential for improved outcomes and elevate the facility’s reputation among families and potential referral sources. 

For caregivers, this is an opportunity to address the challenges posed by dementia as well as to nurture the well-being of residents and create an environment where they can thrive — despite the complexities of their condition.

Paul Tanico is chief strategy officer and executive chairman at SYNAPS Dx, a company focused on the research, development and commercialization of a diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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