To meet the growing demand for specialised healthcare, many retirement centres around the country offer dedicated facilities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
A recent study has estimated that more than 24 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. One in 10 people over 65 is affected, just like one in three over the age of 85. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing; it knows no social, economic, ethnic or geographical boundaries.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which is a collective name for conditions in which progressive degeneration of the brain affects memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of memory.
- Difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying.
- Difficulty in performing tasks that were previously routine.
- Personality and mood changes.
- Unusual behaviour.
Dementia affects no two people in the same way. Some sufferers neglect personal hygiene, and others no longer recognise their own families, have extreme mood swings, impaired judgement, and behave oddly. The ability to perform the normal activities of daily living is impaired, and they will need help with all aspects of everyday life.
At present, there is no cure for his degenerative disease. Medication may be able to relieve some of the symptoms for a while, but eventually, all patients experience loss of memory as well as their ability to navigate and understand the world and care for themselves.
Alzheimer's disease affects not only the person with dementia but the entire family. The personal and emotional stress of caring for a person with dementia is enormous, and caregiver burnout is a regular occurrence. Many families find out they cannot cope, which is why dedicated Alzheimer's facilities are vital.
Some offer 24-hour care all year round, whereas others provide temporary respite and daycare facilities to ease the burden on families caring for relatives with dementia.
What to look for
Alzheimer’s South Africa offers extensive guidelines for selecting a care facility that specialises in Alzheimer’s patients. Emphasis is on practical considerations, but it’s also important to look at the emotional implications of your decision and discuss these with someone you can confide in.
Some of the most important considerations are:
- Is the property clean and well-cared for, with functional, comfortable furniture and attractive décor?
- Is the property secure with visible security staff?
- Do the staff seem helpful and caring?
- Are the residents appropriately dressed for the weather?
- Are residents happy and occupied, or do they sit staring into space?
- Is it close to friends and family, as well as shops and places of worship?
- Are there ramps instead of stairs, with handrails in passages, bedrooms and bathrooms?
- Are the floor surfaces non-slip?
Who manages the centre, and who is responsible for the financial management?
Will you be able to afford the fees in the long term?
Are there costs in addition to the monthly rate?
What are the expected annual fee increases?
Are the regulations designed to ensure residents' comfort or make things easier for the staff? For example, regimented bedtimes and visiting hours.
How much is the family involved in the resident's managed care programme?
Bathrooms and bedrooms
Do residents share bedrooms? If so, what happens if they can’t get along with the other occupants?
Do the bedrooms have views from the windows?
Is there enough storage space?
Is the lighting adequate?
What personal furniture and belongings are permitted?
Have bathrooms been adapted for wheelchair users and people with mobility issues?
Planned daily activities
Make sure the care facility you are considering is registered with the Department of Social Development. Registration is required in accordance with the Older Persons Act (Act 13 of 2006), and the certificate of registration should be prominently displayed.
It’s highly unlikely that any facility will meet all your requirements, and deciding to enter or admit someone else to such a facility is probably one of the most difficult decisions you will be called on to make. Alzheimer’s South Africa’s regional offices and the organisation’s helpline have staff and volunteers trained to help. Visit alzheimers.org.za for more information.
Writer: Sarah-Jane Meyer