Support services aimed at residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are becoming more critical than ever in the seniors housing market. Many new facilities and renovations are including these units. But there are various aspects of providing a comprehensive memory care program that operators must follow, including therapy regimens, engagement strategies and security measures.

Cognitive therapy and resident engagement are two important clinical and social services for memory care residents, and with an expanding knowledge and technology base, operators have more and better options than ever before, says Jack York, president of It’s Never 2 Late.

“We see a dramatic increase in the demand for engagement,” he says. “We have hundreds of systems set up in various memory care locations and the families making decisions today are tech savvy — they are starting to demand that tools are available to their parents to Skype, to participate in brain fitness activities, to travel virtually, and to stay connected to the outside world.”

This connectivity and cognitive therapy isn’t merely clinical in nature and doesn’t necessarily have to be marketed that way, York maintains. In fact, he says the most effective message that facilities can project is the socially desirable concepts of person-centered care and wellness programming.

To be sure, person-centered care is a cornerstone of memory support and a practice that all facilities should be following, adds Peter T. Klug, director of clinical and rehabilitation for Direct Supply.

“Person-centered care is extremely important, especially for residents with dementia,” he says. “They need a home that provides safety and security, a calm, reassuring and therapeutic environment — a setting that supports each resident’s strengths and specialized individualized care. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be within a special care unit.”

More person-centered approaches, early-stage investment and an increasing focus in product development are actions being taken by companies that specialize in the areas of supporting and enriching the lives of seniors with dementia, Klug says.

“I expect there will be a rapid increase in the rate of innovation for products based on basic and applied research as to the needs and desires of persons as they live with dementia,” he says.

From a clinical perspective, York says a tremendous amount of research shows how engagement can help reduce the use of psychotropic drugs.

“That’s a big deal from a governmental compliance standpoint as well as from a cost reduction standpoint,” he says. “What’s being seen both through research and common sense is that technology is a way to connect people in meaningful ways, whether it be through music, spirituality, or brain fitness and cognitive therapy.”

In the span of a few short years, the use of information technology in cognitive therapy has gone from novelty to mainstream, York says.

“It is now an expectation,” he says, “that technology will also integrate engagement with clinical and medical software. The market is demanding it, and it will come.”

Fostering engagement

York cautions, however, that operators should not adopt just any technology for technology’s sake — it must be tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual.

“And that has nothing to do with aging,” he says. “Personally, I’m 56 years old and really like Bruce Springsteen. When I turn 85, I will still like him, and I won’t have a sudden need for Barbra Streisand. It’s simply common sense to deliver to individuals the content that is relevant to them, and in doing so, the outcomes are remarkable.”

Creative communities integrate engagement into their overall wellness and therapy programming, York says, adding that it’s most successful when taking a multi-disciplinary approach. When done correctly, he says, residents look forward to participating in the various programs and enjoy the stimulation they offer.

“It’s really not that complicated — if you provide meaningful content and engagement that people enjoy, you will attract them,” York says. “The technology has to be relevant for the residents and not for the preconceived notions of what a therapist would assume. The options available are unlimited … something as simple as Google Earth can fascinate and stimulate people and put smiles on their faces.”

New innovations

Through ongoing research, the Center for Applied Research in Dementia is working to change the method of dementia care, which Direct Supply is using in its product design, Klug says.

“We are taking those principles and using them in the products we design under our own brand as well as how we screen new products being developed for senior living,” he says. “We have products in resident rooms, common areas, dining and safety that are being designed specifically for those with dementia. We also have therapeutic products in cognitive assessments, exergaming, activities and music that we believe are making a positive impact on the lives of those with dementia.”

One of the innovative new products is the CyberCycle, developed on the principles of exergaming research, Klug says. Combining physical exercise with an interactive virtual reality gaming simulated environment is intended to be both engaging and therapeutic.

In a study cited in American Journal of Preventitve Medicine, “cyber cyclists” experienced a 23% reduction in the progression of mild cognitive impairment compared to traditional exercisers and yielded greater cognitive benefits in executive function.

Social media’s value

Connectivity with family and friends through social media outlets such as Facebook has become a valuable engagement tool to help seniors keep intellectually stimulated while electronically socializing with the outside world. The growing popularity of social media among seniors is a testament to their cravings for being connected and for staving off loneliness, says Kaleb Scharmahorn, director of marketing for Silversphere.

Although therapy and rehab often focus on the resident’s physical needs — ensuring their safety and physical wellness, their emotional needs also are important to nurture, he says. In fact, in an age where families commonly uproot and move to different states, he says the elderly are becoming more isolated and feel more alone than ever. 

“There are a number of factors at play here, from the fact that many retirees move to warmer climates when they leave work to the fact that children and grandchildren often move away after college to pursue their careers,” he says. “No matter what the reasons, modern families are scattered more widely than ever before. The typical senior citizen may have children and grandchildren living in several different states or even several different countries, and that can make getting together in person a difficult thing indeed.”

So although getting the whole family together in one room might not always be possible, it doesn’t mean residents and their families can’t meet and talk about their lives,” he says. 

Seniors are starting to become familiar with Facebook, but they may not realize the scope of possibilities the platform provides, Scharmahorn says. 

“While they may know that Facebook makes it easy to share photos, they may not know that it is just as easy to embed videos and other content,” he says. “To get them engaged with it, take the time to show them all the great things Facebook can do.”