Listening to a favorite song from the past, smelling a familiar meal cooked from childhood, or cuddling with a stuffed animal that resembles a former pet can all reduce anxiety for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
“We really try to understand what our customers like and don’t like now, and things they liked and didn’t like in the past, and bring them joy through that,” said Jennifer Teller, owner of Comfort Keepers, based in West -Laune, Berks County.
In the 21 years that Comfort Keepers has been offering home care and aged care support, it has offered memory care to 50% of its clients living with various forms of dementia.
“Our goal is to work with them on their remaining abilities and strengths and help them with the tasks they need help with,” Teller said.
Memory care, a form of specialized care, is also offered in many senior living communities.
Freedom Village at Brandywine, a continuing care community for seniors in Coatesville, Chester County, offers memory care under the umbrella of all levels of care available.
“Anyone with a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s may be a good fit for these services,” said Nathaniel Stube, director of personality and memory care.
Stubby said at Freedom Village, they are always learning new techniques and training staff to make sure they put the resident at the center of care.
“We offer 24-hour care, caregivers and special programs for our residents with dementia that focus on reducing the fear, anxiety and frustration that can interfere with their daily activities,” Stube said.
For seniors receiving memory care at home, Teller said, it’s an environment that can work in her client’s favor. The most important thing she tries to convey to the family, as well as the caregiver, is the importance of maintaining a routine that their loved one is familiar with.
“That’s what makes home care so important because when they stay in the home, that’s one place they feel comfortable and familiar,” Teller said. “If you move them around and take them out of their routine, it can cause problems.”
Comfort Keepers focus on other familiar things to create comfort and reduce anxiety, and as a way to stimulate the senses.
“If you put on ’50s swing music, it takes them back and brings a sparkle to their eyes,” Teller said. “If you bring them a certain flower that they loved as a child, it can make them feel comfortable and at ease. Looking at an old photo album of their grandchildren, or when they were younger, it all helps.”
She said it’s all about what brings joy to the customer, and one way is through touch.
“It’s getting in touch with comforting things,” Teller said. “Especially for women who have cared for people all their lives, this meaning does not disappear. They may forget to take their medicine or not remember what day it is, but these feelings will always be ingrained in them from a young age.”
She said the joy of human touch, the love and care you get from people is eternal.
“Those feelings don’t go away,” she said.
Animals also serve as a great source of comfort and peace for clients. Another alternative is to hold dolls or stuffed animals.
“They remember taking care of their own children in their 20s and 30s,” she said. “Dolls, stuffed animals, dogs, cats and children – it lights up a room when they have access to it.”
Through her work, Teller offers a combination of care and support for caregivers along with care administration. Help and support involves offering training and solutions, as well as providing caregivers with useful resources in the community. Customers receive anywhere from eight hours a week to 24/7 customer service.
“We could come in and help with tips and cues for bathing and toileting for morning routines and bedtime,” she said. “We can take that role of caregiver and give them a little relief for that.”
Teller said that while the person living with dementia may be different, it’s about working with their current cognitive abilities. The mission of Comfort Keepers is to help the family understand the changes that are happening to their mother, father, grandmother, grandfather or spouse.
“The biggest problem is that we are gradually losing them before our eyes,” she said.
What is memory care?
Memory care is designed to provide a safe, structured environment with established routines to reduce stress for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Caregivers are employed to provide meals and assist with personal care for residents, just like staff in assisted living facilities, but they are also specially trained to deal with the unique challenges that often arise as a result of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
They meet with residents more often and provide extra structure and support to help them navigate their day.