How is memory care given in a home designed for senior living? (I live in Bothell)

Image by Cristian Newman

Memory care is the caregiving service pertaining to mostly the elderly who are struggling usually with short term memory. They might remember the exact details of, for example, their experiences in the Korean War in the 1950s, but struggle to remember the names of their own grandchildren. Although memory loss among the elderly runs along consistent patterns, each one among us will experience a unique set of memory losses. I might have trouble remembering where I left my phone, but have no trouble with names, whereas you might have the reverse of that. It takes a special type of person to take care of those who are looking after elderly residents of an Adult Family Home.

Everyone responds differently to the realization of their fading memory, and all that goes with it. Some of us will simply take it in our stride, confident in the knowledge that we have loved ones around us who will take care of us. Others will become agitated and upset, while others will get angry and may lash out in one way or another. Everyone has their own unique way of coping with this new and progressive reality.

A caregiver in such a situation will need a combination of both patience and empathy. Although empathy could be described as “feeling what another feels”, loosely speaking, doing just that can make it more difficult to support a person who is truly struggling with it. You must “be close” yet “keep your distance”, in order to properly support and care for a person who, from one moment to the next, might completely forget who you are, despite the fact that you’ve been taking care of them for the past twelve months. For some would-be care givers, that is difficult to handle. They’ve gotten close to the person they are looking after and yet, now they are watching them slip away from a mental and emotional point of view. A care giver must be able to manage that situation with patience and a degree of compartmentalization. You must be present emotionally for the person, but manage your own boundaries so that you remain a good care giver for them and for others in your care.

An Adult Family Home, because of its size limitations, offers a uniquely supportive environment. There can only be, by Washington State law, a maximum of six residents in an Adult Family Home, which means it doesn’t take too long for all of the staff to know all of the residents intimately. In one situation I remember from several years ago, an Adult Family Home care giver helped a resident to remember the names of his grandchildren who were visiting later that day. She took out all the photos and went over the children one by one. The resident in question could remember anything for about an hour, which was all that was necessary in this situation, and it helped enormously. The children arrived, greeted grandpa, then went off to find something to play with. Everyone was happy, and the same cycle was repeated again two weeks later. That would not have been possible in a larger home, such as a nursing home, where there are simply too many people to take care of. No sooner is a staff member getting to know a resident, the care giver is given different tasks and another nurse is put in her place. I’m sure some nursing homes will mitigate this situation to allow residents exposure to a consistent, smaller team within the complete staff, but it’s hard to do that. One of the economies of scale with a nursing home is that fewer staff may be allocated to a large number of residents.

Medical needs are more easily taken care of at an Adult Family Home

Another advantage of the residency limitations of an Adult Family Home is the intimate understanding a care giver can have of the individual medical needs of a resident. Let’s look at an example: A resident with type 1 diabetes goes into insulin shock in the middle of the afternoon. They become a bit disoriented, and are therefore not immediately available to tell the people around them what’s going on. A caregiver in a large organization might first have to look up a medical chart to see the resident’s history, or might even decide to call emergency services rather than risk a deeper problem. But a on-site care giver at an Adult Family Home would know all that’s required: a small amount of sugar will bring the diabetic back into balance in a minute of two. It might simply be a sugar cube or a sweet. An easy solution that turns a potential drama scene into nothing. This is because only when there is a limit of six residents in the home is it possible for one care giver to have a grasp of the medical condition of all of the residents.

It’s called an Adult Family Home for several good reasons

Most residents of an Adult Family Home move from living in the home of their adult children to an Adult Family Home. Another big portion of residents have moved from their own home. Perhaps life living alone was becoming too challenging, so they simply wanted more care than they could provide from themselves. For whatever reason, residents of an Adult Family Home are moving into a place that, in many ways, resembles a real home situation. With six residents and a similar number of staff, its numbers are definitely closer to a typical large family than a nursing home. It’s supposed to offer all of the advantages of living within a family, but with the added security of full time care, and the knowledge that regular medical check-ups and service is always available.

The combination of living alone and suffering from memory loss is one of the biggest reasons people like to move into an Adult Family Home. They want to coziness of a ‘family life’, but know that memory loss can lead to other problems. You might be well able to cook up a great omelet at home, but what if you forget to switch off the stove of boiling potatoes? Living in an Adult Family Home means that will never happen. It’s safer, more secure and a whole lot more fun to be with people all day.