Available options when a loved one suffers severe memory loss

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette Skilled nursing facilities offer complete care, both physical and for the mind. Here, a resident enjoys conversation with a doctor while receiving care.

Having a loved one with memory loss, dementia or Alzheimers can be difficult and frightening to face. Knowing what to expect and what options are available can be comforting. Knowing what services are available can go a long way in helping an ailing loved one.

While there are very few options locally in regard to adult day care centers, there are other available resources, such as considering placement.

Facilities such as Lighthouse in Hancock and Hubbell, Houghton County Medical Care Facility, or Portage Point in Hancock are such resources. These are skilled nursing facilities. Gardenview in Calumet is an assisted living and memory care facility.

“We don’t have just one hall or one unit for specific for patients with Alzheimers or dementia,” Kellie Luoma of Portage Point said, “but we are prepared to care of people, as well they are, to the end of their days.”

In addition to monitoring a resident’s physical health needs, skilled nursing facilities also focus on their daily living, such as offering activities.

“A good activities director will try to have as many groups as possible to cover as wide a group as possible,” Luoma said. One activity, in what is called a sensory group, involves a mixture of cornstarch and hand lotion, that looks and feels similar to dough.

“If you liked to bake, this may be as close to baking as you can get at this moment,” Luoma explained. “(The activities director) may have two baking groups. She may have one for people who can work a little bit more independently, or she may have a baking group that just needs to have their hands in it, and just mix with their hands. It just provides ‘is it solid, is it powder? but it smells good.’ It still provides some sort of stimulation. It smells good, it feels different, it gives them something to occupy their time that is useful to them, because what they used to be able to do, they may not be able to do the way they used to.”

With Alzheimers or dementia patients, there may be more hands on sensory-type activities suitable for their particular stage of the illness.

“And once they go past that point,” Luoma said, “then they might be more like long-term care in the regular part of the unit, where the dementia has progressed so far they are not necessarily as interactive, or able to interact, in those types of activities.”

Many activities enjoyed by facility residents are provided by local volunteers. Most of these activities are also considered in the sensory group. These include community volunteers, volunteers from schools, piano players from church, and local musicians.

Luoma said a good activities director will try to get as many residents involved as possible, which involves sensory group activities of various levels for various people.

“You may just enjoy working on a crossword puzzle in a group,” she said, “whereas I may have to have something more hands on, tactile, that I can smell, that I can taste, it’s not harmful.”

Making the decision to place a loved one in a home is not easy.

“Is skilled nursing facility 100 percent perfect 100 percent of the time?,” Luoma said. “No. But if home was perfect, that is where you would be also, so sometimes the option is to find a place where the caregiver is comfortable, and the elder is also comfortable.”

The decision to place a loved one in a new home requires the consideration of both the loved one and the home caregiver.

“I think that I can tell people safely that once your loved one moves in, becomes familiar with their surroundings, and you then as the caregiver, can see some of the burden being taken off of you,” Luoma explained. “You’re not preparing three meals a day. You’re not doing the cooking, you’r not doing the medication management, you’re not doing the laundry. You’re not getting up at three o’ clock in the morning because they fell out of bed. You can come back to where you enjoy your loved one, whether it be your dad, your brother, you can come back to just enjoy, such as coming in for Happy Hour on Friday, because I’ve not been up all night getting you to your appointments.”

While adjustments to a loved one being placed out of the home can be difficult and take time, it does not mean that the loved one will never return home. On the contrary, the placed loved one is free to make visits to their home. Luoma provided a good example, creating a scenario.

“Me as your spouse, I can come here and take you home just for the day, and bring you back in the evening. If it’s our anniversary, I can come and pick you up. They will have you shaved, dressed, ready to go, smelling good, and help get you into the car so that way once we’re home, we can spend the day together, I can get you back here. They’ll meet me at the door.”

Different from skilled nursing facilites are those such as Gardenview Assisted Living and Memory Care in Calumet. Gardenview offers residents assistance when help is needed, and encouragement to each resident to be as self-sufficient and independent as possible. Gardenview’s associates go through extensive training in a range of dementia care, which includes behaviors, communications, activities and care. Their range of services includes bathing, dressing, and medication management. Their specialized memory care program is designed to stimulate the mind and the body, and assistance is available 24 hours day.

There are options. But what is the best option? Luoma said the best option is what the individual wants, and she offered a suggestion.

Luoma said the best option is what the individual wants. She offered a suggestion.

“Talk to your loved ones at an early enough age and plan ahead,” she said.“Let your loved ones know what you want and try to set it into motion while you can make up your own mind.”