All posts by Madge Ross

Assisted Living Options for Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Facing the decision about transitioning into an assisted living environment can be challenging under the best circumstances, but the process becomes even more difficult when it is complicated by concerns about Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Recognizing the signs that someone with Alzheimer’s needs assisted living is the first step. Following that it is important to understand what the goals of memory care are and what different types of living environments are available.

Recognizing the Need for Assisted Living

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of choosing assisted living for your parent who has Alzheimer’s is recognizing that they can no longer live alone or that you are no longer equipped to provide the care that they need. Though people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s may be able to live independently for a brief period, the eventual progression of their condition becomes evident and will present a danger to their safety. Early signals include phone calls to you or to friends in the middle of the night, a lack of responsiveness in conversation, and a loss of proactive communication and involvement with family and friends. This is often followed by more worrying signs, including:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Inappropriate dress or lack of hygiene
  • Dramatic shifts in sleeping habits
  • Marked changes in the household, including the thermostat being set too high or too low, refrigerator empty or full of spoiled food, unwashed dishes, piles of unopened mail, burned pots and pans, spills that have not been cleaned, the smell of urine in the home

The most urgent indications of the need for supervised care is when your loved one is wandering from home and getting lost. When any of these symptoms arise, the question of placement into a care community shifts from an “if” to a “which.”

Finding the Right Assisted Living Facility

Though it may feel like you are alone in facing the challenge of a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the truth is that over half of all residents of assisted living and nursing homes have some form of cognitive impairment. Because of its prevalence, care facilities and advocates have gone to great strides to identify and address the needs of those who require what has come to be known as memory care. Food and fluid consumption, pain management, and social engagement are the primary concerns of quality Alzheimer’s care, as are addressing wandering. When you are looking for the right assisted living facility, you should prioritize care that understands that those with dementia are still able to experience happiness and meaning in their lives, and who work to that end. Optimal care balances all of the clinical needs — including assessment of abilities and care planning — with the establishment of healthy relationships between residents, staff and the family.

Types of Residential Care

Though assisted living has become a catch-all phrase for care that precedes nursing homes and long-term care facilities, those who seek supervision and care for residents who have dementia or Alzheimer’s have a wide spectrum of options, and choosing the right one often depends upon the progression of the cognitive impairment. Those who are in the early stages of the disease may simply need retirement housing that eases their level of responsibility and provides them with limited supervision. Assisted living provides the next step, and provides the additional support of meals, maintenance, and the availability of supportive services. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are for those whose care needs exceed what an assisted living facility can provide. They primarily address nutrition and medical care, though they may also provide for recreation and social needs.

Some residential communities offer a continuum of these services. Referred to as continuing care retirement communities, they provide the convenience of allowing a resident to progress from independent living to more active levels of care without having to relocate.

Memory Care Units

Many assisted living facilities and nursing homes offer their residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia the availability of special care units, or SCUs that provide 24-hour supervision. Also known as memory care units, these environments are equipped for the particular type of care needed by those who suffer from memory deficits. In most cases, a memory care unit will be housed within a larger residential facility but will provide additional levels of staffing, attention and security to prevent wandering and keep residents safe. Staff members are specially trained and provide both medical care and assistance with basic needs such as grooming, hygiene, eating and medications. They also host and facilitate social activities with the structure needed by those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. One of the advantages of a memory care unit is that it is able to provide for any medical needs and the treatment of serious conditions within the safety of its specialized environment.

Costs of Assisted Living for Residents with Alzheimer’s

Unfortunately, because those who need memory care have such specialized needs, the costs of living in a dedicated care unit are often higher than those of a residence community that serves a more general population. Much of the cost is dependent upon the level of security and staffing provided, though factors such as geography, room size, public or private residence and additional amenities also contribute, as they do in any assisted living environment.

What to Look For in a Memory Care Unit

As is true for every decision about assisted living, make sure that you take the time to do some research and to visit a number of different care facilities. Take careful note of the condition of the residents and see whether the staff is friendly and open when you are on your tour. When you are close to making a decision, go back and visit at different times of the day so that you can see the different shifts and how the mood may change, as well as how a variety of different services are provided.

There are certain questions that it is important to ask in anticipation of the changing needs of your parent. These include:

  • How are families notified of changes in condition or treatment?
  • Are communication channels between family and staff available?,/li>
  • What services and programming are provided specifically for those with Alzheimer’s?
  • How much freedom of movement is there within the specialized care unit?
  • How much visitation is allowed by family and friends?

Finding the right environment for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult, but the more you take the time to educate yourself and investigate your options, the more comfortable you will be with the decision that you make.

Best Sites for Brain Teasers

I’m obsessed with brain teasers and puzzles, so I thought I’d share some of the best sites for those types of games. As I’ve said before, brain puzzles may help fend off brain atrophy, Alzheimer’s and dementia. I use little games with my Aunt Polly when I go visit her in Knoxville at her assisted living facility. Here are my top picks for the best sites for brain teasers.

Brain Bashers

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It’s not the prettiest site in the world, but it has puzzles, logic games, mazes and more. You can sign up for a daily puzzle email and there is even a spot for teachers. The site requires Java, so make sure you have that on your computer. If not, there are plenty of other sites to choose from.


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This site includes the answers, so if you get frustrated by not being able to check your work, this is a good site for you. You can even add your own puzzles. This site isn’t for sissies. Some of the puzzles are REALLY hard. But it’s good when you want to sharpen your skills.


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I absolutely love this site. It has so many free games you could spend all day there. There’s also a cool community you can join and trade game tips with. They have categories like “mentalrobics,” brain teasers and trivia.

WU Riddles

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This site has had some problems as of late, but it’s a great resource for lovers of brain teasers. The guy who runs the site has been collecting riddles since 2002 and it’s hard to find the answers, but it’s worth it. The answers are posted on the forum, so you have to go looking for them.

These are just a few of the sites I use to keep my brain sharp. There are other sites you can pay for, but who has the money for that? I also buy the big variety puzzle books at the local drugstore or grocery store. I keep a pencil, pencil sharpener and eraser nearby and it takes me back to my school days when I got so much satisfaction out of neatly completing my workbooks.

I may be kind of a “nerd,” but these games are fun. And, if I can stave off dementia, I’ll keep doing it forever!

Fabulous Fashion Tips for Women Over Sixty

There was a time when the phrases “fashionable” and “over sixty” were thought to be polar opposites. But today’s mature women are often pointed to as fashion icons who have abandoned the trends and forged forward with their own personal styles. For many, turning sixty means changes in the body that force them to abandon what’s tight and form-fitting, but there are plenty of older women who are still out there, running and exercising on a daily basis and as a result they’re looking fit and feeling fabulous.

By the time they’ve reached sixty, most women have achieved their own personal sense of style. They understand that sexiness and fashion have nothing to do with age and that there’s nothing wrong with adding a bit of bling or a flash of color. If you’re looking for ways to embrace your age and look your best, here are some easy fashion tips for women over sixty.

Pay Mind To Your “Do”

Pay attention to your hair. Though many women have embraced their gray, or even gone all the way to coloring with beautiful shades of silver or white, it’s still important to choose a hairstyle that doesn’t age you. Choose a style that frames your face. Pixie, cropped or shaggy bobs, heavy side sweeps and long layered looks can all look great as long as you keep it looking healthy.

Don’t Shy Away From Flattering Styles

Ditch baggy clothes. You don’t want to wear things that look like you borrowed them from your tween granddaughter, but keep in mind that clothes that sag and hang make you look older and frumpy. Make sure that your clothes fit well — if you have an old favorite that has seen better days, a trip to the local seamstress may restore it to a fresher look. Tailored looks that fit you well are best, but even if your preference is for floaty, flowing tunics, make sure that they fit in the shoulders and that the pants or leggings that you’re wearing are correctly fitted.

Pretty, Soft Colors

Soft colors often work best for women over sixty. Though you might love bright colors such as red or bright yellow, they can be aging. If you must include color, try to work it in with accents rather than with head-to-toe hues that overwhelm.

Skip The Monochromatic Look

All black may have been your favorite look when you were younger, but keep in mind that it can be very aging as you get older. Black can tend to look harsh and accentuate wrinkles, where bringing in warm or lighter colors can soften the look of lines.

Despite all of the tips you’ll see for fashion in women over sixty in magazines and websites, remember that if you’re over sixty, you’ve earned the right to cultivate your own personal style. Think of Diane Keaton in her all white outfits or Gloria Steinem in her signature black turtleneck, long hair and aviator glasses. Understand what works for you and feel free to do it, but keep in mind that if you want to retain a youthful look, you need to at least stay in touch with what’s up to date. You may love tie dye and can still tie it in if you like, but you’re better off limiting it to a scarf or a pair of leggings than an entire outfit that will make you look tied to a not-so-recent past. By the same token, remember that fads are for young kids – if a teenager is wearing it, then you probably shouldn’t.

Unexpected Gift Ideas for Women Over Sixty

The question of “what to get for the woman who has everything” may seem like it’s meant only for those who are rich, but perhaps it is more truly for the person who is rich in years. As women approach sixty, they are generally more in touch and at peace with who they are. They’ve moved beyond their child-bearing years, have long-established friendships, and generally have an air of confidence. If they have an interest they are willing to indulge it and they have their own unique sense of fashion and a closet that supports it. So what do you get for a woman over sixty? Something that shows that you understand who she is and that you love her for it. Make sure that the gift that you choose is a reflection of the interests she has expressed … after all, you wouldn’t buy workout gear for a woman who has eschewed exercise, or knitting supplies for a person who has two left thumbs. Here are some unexpected gift ideas that women over sixty will love.

• Buying something elegant and fun is always a good idea. After all, she’s over sixty, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love romance, entertaining, and setting a mood. Beautiful candles that can be used whether she’s enjoying time by herself or having people over are always a welcome gift.
• Women never stop checking themselves out in the mirror, so consider a fancy little compact that she can slip into her purse for a quick reapplication of lipstick.
• They may not be sexy, but a pair of really luxurious shearling slippers are exactly the kind of thing that people tend not to buy for themselves, but truly appreciate. These are especially nice in the cold winter months, and you’ll be thought of every time she slips them on.
• The over-sixty set has thoroughly embraced yoga, and if your mom, aunt, sister or friend is one who is addicted to this exercise, pick up a mat that stands out in a crowd. The Internet is loaded with beautiful options that will tell everybody which spot in the studio is hers.
• She may have collected a lifetime’s worth of jewelry, but the big, blingy pieces that are in style right now are a joy to every woman. Indulge her sense of style with a bold personalized cuff or a sparkly necklace or pair of earrings that may not be real, but are oh-so-much-fun. A cute sparkly clutch is also a great gift.
• There’s no such thing as a bad massage, or so my friends love to say. You can never go wrong with a gift certificate to a local spa, whether it’s for a manicure, pedicure, facial or hot stone massage. She’ll love the pampering, especially if you let her choose the service she wants.
• Is she a grandma? A travel addict? A gardener? If so then she probably has tons of pictures that need to be organized. Another gift certificate idea that will be truly appreciated is the gift of a photo book from one of the many online services that allow you to upload photos and organize your books in unlimited ways.
• When she’s going out at night and there’s a chill in the air, she’ll appreciate a soft, warm wrap that she can just throw on and go. Stick with basic colors like black, cream or a shimmery silver or gold if you want her to get a ton of use out of it, or if she has a flair for the dramatic pick out something that’s bold and brilliant.

Myths and Realities About Senior Living

Since my Aunt Polly went to live in an assisted living facility in Knoxville, TN, I’ve been thinking a lot about the public’s perception of assisted living and what I see as the truth.

Myth: “assisted living” is a extravagant expression meaning “expensive hospital.”

Reality: A hospital is a place for urgent care and more, but an assisted living facility provides care for seniors with wellness requirements that increase in severity. It’s like an ordinary condo or apartment building that helps you with everyday actions as much as you need it. Many facilities have a retirement community half and an assisted living portion. That way someone can live normally until they need extra medical care, then they can move, within the same community, to assisted living. Hospitals don’t provide anything like that.

Myth: no decent assisted living facility is even remotely affordable

Reality: There are things you can do to afford assisted living for your relative. Are they a veteran or the spouse of a veteran? There may be a discount available. Also, not all assisted living and retirement communities have set-in-stone pricing. Ask about a move-in incentive or if there are services you can order ala carte. Not everyone wants or needs to eat every meal in the dining hall. Some people can’t even make it there. Talk to the administrator to find out what’s best for your relative.
Fantasy: You can get the same treatment at a hospital and pay a fraction of the price
Reality: This really isn’t true. You can get palliative care (end of life or hospice care) in a facility that is like a mix between a hospital and an assisted living facility, with health problems addressed in a hospital’s ER. A lot of times, these patients wait for a long time in the emergency room. A top-notch assisted living facility can provide the quality of care that reduces the need for ER visits and keeps your relative comfortable at home.

The right facility will have a blend of quality, luxurious lifestyle amenities with the medical staff on hand to help your relative make the transition into assisted living when then need it.