older Black man sits with his chin on his hands looking worried
3 populations you should be ready to address
by Rich Paul

It was late afternoon and Dr. Harper reached for his legal pad and clipboard as he began opening and entering every door, prepared to update his patient charts before the end of his shift. Only it had been over a decade since Dr. Harper practiced medicine and he was at home, not at the hospital. He was experiencing sundowning as a symptom of his Alzheimer’s disease.

The number of Americans impacted by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is projected to increase at a startling pace as the population ages. The Alzheimer’s Association recently noted that when the nation’s 65-and-up population grows from 58 million today to 88 million by 2050, the number of individuals living with Alzheimer’s will more than double, to 13.8 million. In the near term, it will increase by a third by 2030, from 6.1 million today to 8.5 million. This steep rise in the need for care of those experiencing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia raises the question: Is the health care system—and the homecare industry in particular—adequately prepared?

The relatively young homecare industry has earned a critical seat at the continuum of care table. Even if we weren’t there before, the pandemic and the aging-in-place phenomenon certainly put us there. In the coming years, homecare is going to play an even greater role as the baby boomers and then Generation X continue to move towards the later years of their lives. We especially need to focus on dementia-related needs and the specific care required to support this growing segment.

As homecare agencies assess their readiness to address the demand for memory care-related services, there are three important populations a comprehensive memory care program should address.

1. Clients Living With Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia represent a life-changing event for the individual experiencing the symptoms and family members struggling to understand the disease and navigate care for their loved one. At the center of any memory care program is the individual living with cognitive decline. Depending upon the progression of the memory loss, care should include companion care, fall and injury prevention, and personal care. There is no one-size-fits-all in-home support for clients experiencing memory loss, but a comprehensive memory care program should be grounded in evidence-based, person-centered care that addresses the individual’s unique needs and preferences.

2. Family Members

A successful memory care program must also incorporate support for family members and provide them with the resources and knowledge necessary to feel confident in the care plan for their loved one. In addition, services should be designed to reduce the stress of caregiving for family members and provide some much-needed respite support, which may include live-in or 24-hour care or call for assistance in navigating other care options. In fact, approximately 60% of family caregivers report extremely high emotional stress and 40% report developing depression. Family caregivers may have increased medical costs due to the emotional and physical strain of caring for an older adult.

As a family processes this new reality for their loved one, the effort to understand the disease and research the right resources often leaves families feeling overwhelmed. Guiding them through these unchartered waters should include providing education and information to help promote peace of mind in caring for a loved one experiencing dementia or memory loss. Areas of significant importance include addressing the stages of memory loss, being prepared for behavioral changes, ensuring proper nutrition and hydration, adapting the home environment for optimal safety, learning how to communicate effectively and becoming familiar with various memory care resources.

3. Caregivers

Finally, homecare agencies cannot design or implement a memory care program without ensuring that their caregivers are equipped with the knowledge, confidence and support they need to deliver high quality care. Promoting the client’s quality of life, safety and sense of well-being should be the No. 1 priority.

Caregivers serving the needs of those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia should receive evidence-based and person-centered training. Ideally this would include training or certification that has been recognized or certified by the Alzheimer’s Association, which describes person-centered dementia care as “a way of providing care focused on knowing the unique person through respectful close relationships that foster normalcy, choice, purpose, belonging, security and strengths.”

Since millions of Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia and as the size of the U.S. population age 65 and older continues to grow, so too will the number and proportion of Americans with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. As a result of this trend, the homecare industry should anticipate that not only will the demand for memory care-related support services increase, but so will consumer expectations for a comprehensive, evidence-based care solution.

Homecare agencies that prepare now for the more acute and specialized care needs that accompany Alzheimer’s and dementia will help elevate the recognition that homecare is a critical resource in the in-demand at-home care individuals have earned and deserve.

Rich Paul is the chief partnership officer for SYNERGY HomeCare, a nonmedical in-home care provider serving 39 states. Visit synergyhomecare.com.