Posted on February 20, 2021 by Ajla Bedzetovic
At 94, Gloria had hardly ever washed her own hair, relying instead on regular visits to the beauty parlor. After moving to Atria, she kept up her routine at the community’s salon until it closed temporarily due to COVID-19.
That’s when Kelly Burnett, the community’s Life Guidance Memory Care Director, voluntarily took over washing and styling Gloria’s hair.
“That’s not her job, but she knows how important it is to my mother” said Gloria’s son, Bill. “It’s a great example of how caring the staff is. I’ll remember that forever.”
When Joe first moved to Atria, he was depressed. He’d just completed rehabilitation for a stroke, relied on a walker to get around and was developing mild symptoms of dementia.
Despite daily invitations to join his neighbors for gatherings and events, Joe stayed inside his apartment. But staff members didn’t give up. They continued their visits several times a day to say hello, check in and gently urge him to venture out.
It took a few weeks of patient encouragement before Joe started leaving his apartment. Soon he was participating in nearly every event.
“Everyone moves at their own pace,” said Tomika Polk, Divisional Director of Life Guidance Memory Care Operations. “Once Joe realized he could trust the people he lived with, he blossomed.”
Caring for the individual
No two people experience Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia the same way. The symptoms, behaviors and rate of disease progression look different for each individual.
Memory care at Atria is highly personalized to each resident, with one-to-one attention and support from caring staff in a secure, thoughtfully designed setting. Residents also enjoy daily opportunities to engage in meaningful pursuits such as art workshops, discussion groups and fitness classes.
Having worked in dementia care since 1993, Ron Bowen, Divisional Director of Life Guidance Memory Care Operations at Atria, says getting to know an individual’s likes and dislikes, personal history and what makes them tick is especially important when caring for a person with dementia.
“We want to understand the essence of a resident,” Bowen said. “We want to find out everything about Mom that will help us help her.”
To do this, caregivers collaborate with a new resident and their family to answer 116 specific questions, ranging from past occupations to favorite music genres to what calms and reassures them. Bowen refers to this as a resident’s life story.
“We take the answers to those questions and what they say about the resident, the things they like to do, and create a plan to keep them active and engaged.”
Most residents also receive a memory display to hang beside their apartment door. Families can choose to fill it with photos and meaningful mementos that illustrate their family member’s personality. The space also serves a practical purpose by helping the resident locate their apartment.
When staff members get to know a resident well, they can adjust the way they respond to certain behaviors. For some residents, music is a soothing antidote to aggressive behavior, which is a common symptom of dementia. Staff may help other residents focus on a simple task or project to redirect their attention in a positive way.
“What works for one person doesn’t always work for another,” Bowen said.
Developing emotional intelligence
A person with dementia can’t always control their emotions or communicate what they’re feeling. If they appear upset or confused, caregivers need to know the best way to respond.
Staff training at Atria includes universal dementia care methods such as redirecting or reducing distractions. Caregivers are also coached in more intuitive techniques such as “how to read a room,” as Bowen put it.
“We need to use our emotional intelligence when figuring out how to respond,” he said.
Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. The more in touch a staff member is with their own emotions, the better they can assess another’s and respond appropriately.
“We ask family members how they approach Mom, and what kinds of emotions she typically shows. How we respond from an emotional standpoint is what helps the resident feel at ease,” Bowen said.
Polk agreed, adding that a caregiver’s mood also can impact the way a resident behaves.
“People with dementia can sense your vibe and react to it,” she said. “I train staff members to put aside any personal issues as much as possible when they come to work. We want to create a peaceful, enjoyable environment.”
Building trust and communication
Forging a relationship with family is also key to Atria’s personalized approach. After a new resident moves in, a designated caregiver contacts the family with updates every day.
“It’s about connecting from the very beginning to make sure families are part of the process,” Bowen said. “Once they’re on board, it makes caring for the resident easier.”
Whether it’s making decisions together about medical treatment or discussing Dad’s need for a new pair of slippers, staff stay in regular contact with family. In her previous role as a Life Guidance Memory Care Director, Polk even sent photos to family members showing the resident active and engaged.
“We want them to know what their family member is doing,” she said. “That’s one way to gain a family’s trust.”
Bill says the staff members who care for his mother, Gloria, have “just the right touch” and update his family regularly.
“When they call, the first four words are always ‘Your mom is all right,’ and then they talk about what’s going on.
“From the beginning, I could see that these people truly care. I can’t imagine a better place for Mom,” Bill said.
If you or someone you know could benefit from Atria’s forward-thinking, highly personalized memory care, please reach out to the Atria community near you for more information.