Did you know that more than 1 in nine people age 65 and older have Alzheimer's disease? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of Alzheimer's cases is expected to grow to a projected 14 million people.
The Benefits of Long-Term Care for Alzheimer’s Patients
If your initial thought after learning these alarming facts is something along the lines of, "Wow!", "OMG!", or "Holy cow!," we hear you. Truly. Alzheimer's disease is no joke, but on the bright side, there are resources and care options for patients with Alzheimer's, so they can still live their normal lives. One of those resources is long-term care (LTC)! Let's find out more about Alzheimer's disease, LTC, and how LTC benefits Alzheimer's patients.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Back in 1906, a woman died of an “unusual mental illness.” Her symptoms were like nothing Dr. Alois Alzheimer had seen—memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. After she died, Dr. Alzheimer examined her brain and discovered abnormal clumps—now known as amyloid plaques—and tangled bundles of fibers—what we call today neurofibrillary, tau, or tangles. These plaques and tangles were the indicator of what we know today as Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Alzheimer’s discovery changed the medical world forever and paved the way for more research on the brain. Over the years, we’ve been able to make several medical advances to learn more about Alzheimer’s and the way it affects the brain and body. Here’s what we know now:
- Alzheimer’s affects more than 5 million Americans aged 65 and up and accounts for up to 80 percent of all dementia cases in the U.S.
- It mostly impacts older individuals over the age of 65
- It’s ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
- Causes can vary, depending on the type of changes occurring in an individual’s brain
- There is no cure, but there are treatment methods through medication and therapy
As we age, it’s natural that our bodies and brain composition change. And it’s normal to forget where you put your keys, wallet, phone, sunglasses, etc. every now and then. But Alzheimer’s is more than simple forgetfulness or slowed thinking. It’s serious memory loss, confusion, and other major changes that affect how we live and function. As the disease progresses, symptoms worsen, too. The part of the brain that controls learning is impaired and patients may experience disorientation, mood and behavior changes, confusion about time and place, unfounded suspicions about loved ones, and difficulty speaking, swallowing, or walking.
What the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Dementia is a general term that’s used to describe a “decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life,” whereas Alzheimer’s is a specific type of dementia.
Dementia simply describes the symptoms that come with a decline in memory, reasoning, or other thinking skills. There are many types of dementia, but Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that’s brought on by complex brain changes and cell damage that we’re still trying to fully understand. Here’s a video to help explain Alzheimer’s and the brain.
What is long-term care?
So, we know what Alzheimer’s is and who it affects, let’s look at types of care available to these patients. Of course, there’s always home care if that’s an option for the family. However, that’s not always the easiest (or inexpensive) route to take, so sometimes it’s more beneficial and reasonable for the patient to move into a long-term care facility.
What is LTC, you ask? Long-term care settings are communal living environments for individuals with special needs or who require enhanced care. Here, patients can receive the kind of medical, mental, and physical care they need to live happily. The type of LTC facility will depend on the level of care a person needs—these are a few examples:
- Retirement home = Typically offers limited medical supervision and will usually include social activities, transportation, and other amenities. Great for patients who have a high level of autonomy and are able to care for themselves.
- Assisted living facility = Bridges the gap between independent living and assisted living with a combination of housing, meals, supportive services, and medical care.
- Nursing home = Also known as a skilled nursing facility, long-term care facility, or custodial care, nursing homes provide continuous around-the-clock care and medical treatment, and many include nutrition, care planning, recreation, and spiritual services.
- Alzheimer’s special care unit (SCU) = Otherwise known as memory care units, SCUs can exist within any LTC facility and are specifically designed for patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
- Life plan communities = You may know these med facilities as continuing care or retirement communities. This type of communal living center offers different levels of care that are based off individual needs.
The most common kind of LTC is personal care, which includes assistance with everyday activities like bathing, dressing, grooming, using the bathroom, eating, and moving about. As people age, it becomes more common to need LTC support.
5 ways LTC helps Alzheimer’s patients
Long-term care facilities were designed to deliver specialized care to patients in need, so it’s no surprise that patients with Alzheimer’s often find their way to one. In fact, according to data from Kiplinger, 42 percent of LTC residents have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia and 61 percent of residents have severe or moderate cognitive impairment. These are the ways that LTC facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities improve the quality of life for those with cognitive impairment.
No. 1: Offers enhanced aid
It can be frustrating not to have the level of autonomy and independence that you’ve lived most of your life. That’s why LTC facilities offer enhanced aid to patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s to help them retain their independence. This aid can look different depending on the individual and the care center, but typically, LTC facilities offer support with bathing, dressing, grooming, and other basic tasks. The goal here is to ensure patients feel like they have the ability to do what they want and live how they want.
No. 2: Provides recreational activities
Not only does LTC offer a higher level of personal aid, but it also provides recreational activities, and encourages socialization and relationship-building. A lot of the times, people with dementia and Alzheimer’s are prone to depression and anxiety as a result of being (or feeling) isolated from others. LTC provides structured recreational activities, plus time for independent socializing, to promote healthy relationships and social interactions.
No. 3: Creates a safe and peaceful environment
As you can imagine, it can be frightening when you realize you don’t know where you are, who you’re with, or what you’re doing. People with dementia may feel scared or anxious when they encounter new people or situations they’re unfamiliar with, so LTC creates an environment that is calming and relaxing to patients.
No. 4: Delivers on-site medical attention
Where’s the closest hospital to you? How far away is it? Five minutes? 20 minutes? An hour? More? While living at home may feel more comfortable for patients, it can also increase their health risks because there’s only so much a home health nurse can pack in their medical bag. LTC facilities bring the hospital to the individual and offer on-site medical services so that residents can receive the attention and care they need without disrupting their environment or routine. If further medical attention is needed, most care centers provide on-site transportation to and from medical facilities, and ensure the patient gets what they need.
No. 5: Allows for individualized, patient-centered care
Sure, millions of Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, but that doesn’t mean the symptoms look the same in everyone. Because of that, it’s important each patient receives individualized care specifically tailored to their health needs, and that’s exactly what LTC facilities are here to do! Whether someone needs occasional check-ins or round-the-clock supervision, a LTC environment can fulfill a patient’s needs.
If you’re a medical professional who’s worked in LTC, then you know firsthand how difficult it is to live with and treat Alzheimer’s, not to mention how hard it can be to care for those with dementia. Luckily, long-term care services exist to improve the quality of life for patients with Alzheimer’s through enhanced everyday aid, recreational activities, a safe environment, on-site medical attention, and individualized patient-centered care. Want to be one of the superheroes who work in long-term care? Search for LTC jobs and start your journey of improving the lives of others!