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Gaining Perspective Аnd Hope For Those With Dementia

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PBS recently made the praise-worthy effort to address one of the most important public health issues – for today and the foreseeable future – when it aired a TV report titled, “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts.”

As a provider of care, services and living accommodations for seniors, our caregivers and staff members at Atria Senior Living communities across the U.S. are well aware of dementia’s impact. We see the toll it takes on individuals and their families, on caregivers and society as a whole. We support research and fundraising efforts in hopes of finding a cure.

While we do not know when that cure will arrive, fear, stigma and uncertainty should not shape discussion of dementia. Instead, we should consider what can be done now, today, to help individuals with dementia continue to live engaging, meaningful and joyful lives.

  • Physical Activity – Decades of research point to the health benefits of social connection and regular exercise for seniors, including the potential to limit cognitive decline. A study published in 2016 in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that regular exercise may slow mental decline by a decade. At Atria, we encourage exercise twice a day including walks, stretching and chair yoga, dance, and working with weights; activity is good for the brain.
  • Social Connection – A 2009 study funded by the National Institute on Aging and published in the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health found that having a larger social network and consistent contact with family and friends are associated with reduced dementia risk. These findings make a strong case for the value of communal and shared living space.
  • Engaged Programming – What is good for people living with dementia is what is good for all older people: engagement. For example, music-based programs show increasing promise in keeping those with dementia engaged because musical appreciation is among the last abilities to be affected by memory impairment. Research shows that music can improve mood, reduce stress and agitation, and create focus and interest, among other benefits. Atria’s own music program, Legato®, is offered daily in our memory care environments and encourages physical activity and social interaction, all set to music.
  • Thoughtfully Designed Spaces – Environmental factors can greatly influence quality of life and behavior among people with dementia by allowing them to maintain a sense of independence. Atria applies careful and deliberate thought to the design of its memory care environments, or Life Guidance® Neighborhoods, which are designed to maximize awareness and orientation. This extends to interior design, lighting, artwork, safety features and many other aspects.
  • Individualized Care Approach – Everyone’s journey with dementia is unique. Recognizing this, we apply principles of Virginia Bell and David Troxel’s “Best Friends” approach, which encourages use of the individual’s life story, preferences and relationships to help them feel safe, secure and valued. This allows caregivers to develop a care plan tailored to that person’s specific needs.

There is a growing recognition that dementia is not only the responsibility of those directly affected, but society as a whole. A great example is theglobal movement to make more cities and towns “dementia friendly” by educating citizens and working to improve the safety and quality of life for those with dementia. Let's hope this attitude of compassion and accountabilitycontinues to grow in prevalence.

Webelieve life does not end when dementia begins. Ours should not be a language of despair, but instead, one of possibility and hope found in incremental progress, one life at a time.

Tom Alaimo
Vice President
Life Guidance Operations

Atria Senior Living




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