ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
What do you do with a parent or loved one whose dementia has progressed to the point where you are afraid to leave them home alone?
A new adult dementia day care program offered by Hillsboro Community Medical Center offers caregivers the peace of mind of knowing their loved one is in good hands.
“We’re always looking for ways to serve our community better and meet needs that we see are existing,” said Pam Ratzlaff, unit coordinator. “A year ago we opened our Special Care Unit to provide care for those people suffering from a dementing illness.”
“Since that time we’ve become even more aware of many people who are still in the community and are struggling to provide care and keep loved ones in their own homes as long as possible. We felt that by offering this adult dementia care program we could give caregivers the rest that they need and possibly prevent or delay the need for 24-hour care.”
The national Alzheimer’s Association says dementia is an umbrella term for “symptoms related to a decline in thinking skills.
“Common symptoms include a gradual loss of memory, problems with reasoning or judgment, disorientation, difficulty in learning, loss of language skills, and decline in the ability to perform routine tasks.”
The organization estimates that nearly 5 million Americans suffer with Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia.
“Caring for people with a dementing illness is a emotionally and physically draining job,” Ratzlaff said. “Often they just need time to get away to do things for themselves, or they have jobs they have to go to and they are concerned about the safety and well being of people that still live in their home.”
Ratzlaff said caregivers drop off participants in the morning, and they become part of the Special Care Unit for the day.
“They participate in the specialized program that we have going on for residents who are here on a full-time basis, which include activities, arts, crafts, music, therapy and stretching exercises,” she said.
Ratzlaff said restorative therapy is also available.
“We have other services we can provide for a minimal fee,” she said. “For instance, if a caregiver would request that we give the person a shower, we can provide that. If they would like the person to receive a whirlpool while they’re here, we can provide that for a small charge.”
A seven- to nine-hour day includes one meal, Ratzlaff said.
In addition to providing the caregiver with a break, the program has advantages for the participant, she said.
“We like to provide a home-like relaxed environment,” she said. “I think the benefit to them is that we provide a therapeutic milieu to maintain their quality of life. It also prevents loneliness that they may have when their caregiver is at work.”
The primary requirement for admittance to the program is a diagnosis of some form of dementia, said Ratzlaff.
“We need someone who’s appropriate with the diagnosis, and someone who we believe can benefit from a special care program,” she said.
“We would like for them to be independently mobile or require minimal assistance with getting up and down,” she added. “They must also be people who can respond to direction, in other words not in need of heavy nursing care-that wouldn’t be appropriate on this unit.”
Enrolling a loved one in the program is easy, Ratzlaff said.
“We provide an admission form that we like to have completed prior to the first day of the resident coming,” she said. “However, they can bring it with them.
“It is an application and a little bit of intake information, which gives us some physical abilities they have or areas where they need assistance. It also gives us some social history background that lets us know what some of their needs and interests have been in the past.”
Ratzlaff said the form also gives them information about medications and treatments the person needs while in care.
“When someone is admitted here, the care plan team does an assessment of the individual and writes a mini form of a care plan as to how we’re going to meet their needs,” she said.
Ratzlaff said that once a person is enrolled in the program, the caregiver will simply “call ahead-usually 24 hours-and let us know what days they would like to bring them and how long they would like to have them stay.”
The day-care service is offered on weekdays only, but Ratzlaff said special arrangements could be made for weekend care.
Service is billed based on the number of hours the person spends in the unit.
Insurance does not cover the cost of this type of care, but the cost may be reimbursable through a dependent care reimbursement account for caregivers who participate in a flexible spending account program at work.
“The cost is really very reasonable,” said Ratzlaff. “We’ve looked at other adult care programs and we feel we’re very competitive.”
Ratzlaff said capacity in the day care program is dependent on the number of residents in the Special Care Unit.
“We have a capacity in the full-time Special Care Unit for 11 residents,” she said. “Once we are full, I believe we can still offer the dementia care to two or possibly three other individuals on a full-time basis, but we wouldn’t want to go much beyond that.
“Right now we have six full-time residents, so we are still in the process of filling up.”
Ratzlaff said they currently have two people who use the day-care service regularly.
“We’ve had a couple other interested parties who are considering it, but haven’t quite come to that decision yet,” she said. “They’re still trying to make it work with family members and other support people in the community.
“I’m excited about this because I really do believe there are a lot of people out there struggling to provide care alone,” she said. “I’m anxious for them to know that there’s help out here-that we can be of support to them.”