There is a lot of confusion surrounding the aging process and what it means for the cognitive abilities of seniors. While everyone who lives long enough can expect to encounter some age related mental decline, some will go on to suffer more serious conditions such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), dementia and Alzheimer’s. Seniors with these conditions require a greater level of care than what is typically available in an assisted living facility. In order to meet the unique needs of these patients, the memory support unit (MSU) has been devised.
Candidates for MSU care have conditions which are beyond mild cognitive impairment and fall somewhere on the dementia spectrum. These conditions include:
Alzheimer’s Disease – A progressive condition which slowly attacks the nerve cells of the brain.
Vascular Dementia/Cerebrovascular Disease – Considered by experts to be the second most common cause of dementia, this condition occurs when blood clots form in the brain causing the death of brain cells.
Mixed Dementia – Mixed dementia is a classification used to describe patients with both Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)/Lewy Body Disease – This condition is defined by the formation of protein deposits known as Lewy Bodies, in the brain.
Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration/Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) – A fast moving condition which is very similar to Alzheimer’s. FTD can present itself in patients far younger than the typical Alzheimer’s Patient.
MSU’s cost more than standard assisted living arrangements due to the fact that these units provide a more sophisticated level of care tailored to patients with dementia and other similar cognitive impairments. The actual difference in price varies based on a number of factors but it is not unusual for a memory support unit to cost as much as ⅓ more than a standard assisted living unit housed within the same facility. Fortunately, long term care insurance providers and veterans benefit programs can offset some of the costs of memory support.
MSU’s vary from one location to another though they share some common guidelines. Perhaps the most important of these guidelines is that patient residents should be allowed as much autonomy of action as they can reasonably handle without becoming a danger to themselves or others. Simply put, patients are encouraged to live life within the unit in as independent a fashion as they can. Given that the mental condition of patients with dementia, or other age related cognitive impairments, can change from day to day; even from hour to hour, knowing just how much freedom a patient can handle in a particular moment can be challenging.
Some MSU’s units feature private rooms while others use a shared room model. As with any assisted living program, rates for private rooms will be higher than those for shared rooms in a given facility. Both models rely on support staff remaining continuously aware of patient status at all times.
Finding the best facility for a specific patient relies investigating all available information. A good place to start is with family and friends. By learning where your loved ones have placed their relatives who are in need of cognitive support, it is possible to compile a list of potential candidates for your own needs. Allow yourself plenty of time to learn as much as you can about each place.
The best way to learn about the daily activities and living arrangements in any specific MSU is to pay a visit to that unit. Come by later in the day or on a weekend to get an idea of how things function in the unit when the administrators aren’t around. Observe how the staff interact with each other and with patients. Ask if there is calendar that shows a schedule of events and activities which patients can participate in.
Some patients with dementia or other memory impairments can become violent at times. In an MSU, the goal is to prevent episodes of violence from occurring. One way that this is done is looking at the root causes of the aggression. Some patients do better later in the day than first thing in the morning, others may have a specific phobia; all minds are unique and dementia takes on unique forms as well. Rather than implementing strict measures, good MSU’s seek to find ways to work with patients wherever possible because the person is more important than the goal.
Cognitive impairments are a degenerative condition. The time will come for all patients when living in a semi-independent setting is impossible. When patients can no longer reliably meet their own basic needs even with assistance, it’s time to move them to a different level of care.
Patients with advanced needs are often moved from the MSU to what is known as skilled unit within the same facility. Skilled units operate more like a hospital; patients are monitored more closely by staff who are trained to handle these advanced cases. For many patients, the skilled unit represents their final stage of care before death.
MSU’s are reserved for patients with diagnosed conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and other memory impairments. Patients who do not have these conditions are not suitable for entry into a memory care unit and should be entered into an assisted living or other appropriate facility for care.
Dementia can be a frightening process for patients as well as for their families. Patients who suffer from this condition require specific treatment as well as the preservation of as much of their personal dignity as possible. MSU’s are a compassionate answer to this increasingly prevalent problem.