I haven’t posted in awhile. There is a reason. After moving my dad back into Sunrise of Paoli around Thanksgiving, it was a great deal of work getting him back into a groove…to a sense of normalcy after spending two months in skilled nursing, in two different rehab facilities. Honestly, I wonder sometimes if he has any clue where “home” really is.
After about 3 months at Sunrise, with no further broken bones, I made the decision to move my dad to a facility down the road from Sunrise, called Daylesford Crossing. This is where I had wanted him to move initially, but because he was out in Iowa and couldn’t be evaluated in person….and because he was coming off of an pelvic fracture, he was a “two person assist,” meaning he needed two people to help him with just about everything. They rejected him.
The one positive thing to come out of his time at Sunrise was he had a chance to fully heal following his pelvic, then hip fracture. He is actually more ambulatory now than he was when he moved in back in August. I took a chance and re-applied to Daylesford Crossing….and he was accepted!
When I toured Daylesford Crossing (particularly now that I had the experience of knowing what assisted living in a memory care unit really was like), the difference was palpable. The vibe was calmer, quieter. The staff was infinitely better trained. They had a multitude of ongoing activities for the residents, both in the memory unit itself and within the building (which the residents from the memory unit participated along with everyone else). The atmosphere was vibrant, alive, filled with people having fun. It smelled nice. I know that’s a silly thing to mention, but Sunrise always smelled a bit like urine. I attributed it to the fact that there were 26 residents, all wearing depends. You should know, however, that it doesn’t have to smell. If it smells, it’s because the staff isn’t doing their job.
The move went smoothly and my dad transitioned to his new home with very little issues. It is a great relief, for me, to have him living in a place where I can reliably expect the staff to take care of him. I never had the confidence that that was the case at Sunrise.
The internal communication was abysmal. At Daylesford, they use the latest technology throughout the building, using iPhones for all staff, so people are easy to reach and messages get shared easily. You have no idea what a difference that makes to my confidence level. At Sunrise, I would make a request to one person and they never shared that request with anyone else! There are three shifts of staff! I ended up doing most of the work which they should have been doing…Making sure he had fresh batteries in his hearing aids, that he was wearing them daily, that he had a handkerchief in his pocket, that he got up to exercise daily…these sorts of things. I wasn’t asking for the moon, but it seemed to feel like I was.
I cannot over emphasize the importance of choosing a facility based on the following very important criteria:
- How is the internal communication? Exactly how does it happen? Do they use pagers? iPhones? Can you text someone? How often is email checked? What are their systems really like?
- Is the facility run well? Do they review care plans regularly and adjust? My dad NEVER had his care plan reviewed despite his improving condition.
- If your loved one is in memory care, how much overlap do the residents have with folks who do not have dementia? It is important that they feel they are a part of a larger community for entertainment, parties, etc. At Sunrise, it seemed as if the two units operated independently from one another. As a result, my dad was isolated even further.
- Look at the other residents who live in the memory unit. Are they at a similar stage of dementia as your loved one? DO NOT place your loved one in a community where they are the least impaired. They will quickly sink to the level of who is around them. Look for a community where they will have people who are at a similar stage of the disease.
- Look at the percentage of women vs. men. In many of these communities the population leans towards female. Not an issue on the surface, but it becomes an issue when most of the activities revolve around doing one’s hair and nails and crafts. My dad was never interested. Make sure there are activities that your loved one might enjoy. Also – make sure that the activities are MODIFIED for those who have dementia. If you see the list of activities and they include crossword puzzles, bingo and more traditional games you might find in senior living centers, just know that these are not going to work with someone with dementia. They have to be MODIFIED. This requires that the staff have REAL training in dementia. At Daylesford, all staff are trained in the methods of Teepa Snow, a well-respected dementia expert. Who does the staff training? What kind of training is it? Dig under the covers a bit.
- Look at the size of the bathroom. Look at the shower. Is there a lip on the shower that requires someone to step over? Better to not have that. It can become an issues as they decline. The size of the bathroom is critical for someone who uses a walker or wheelchair. My dad’s bathroom at Sunrise was so small that it was a real chore getting him in position to sit on the toilet because there was never enough room for the walker.
- Come several times to visit, at different times of the day. Are the staff interacting with the residents or talking amongst themselves. This was a real issue at Sunrise. Most of the time, staff was sitting around a big table chatting with other staff, while the residents watched TV, which, as it turned out, was the main activity in the memory unit at Sunrise. Even though they posted other activities, often those activities were never done. If you see a place with the TV on all the time, that is not a good sign. Do they have lots of music? Music is something that can be enjoyed by everyone, even those in the latter stages of dementia.
- If you notice people are spending a lot of time in their rooms alone, this is not a good sign. People with dementia cannot safely be left in their room alone for long periods. They no longer understand what is safe and what is not. Often they can be quite impulsive, in fact.
- Find out if there is a dedicated med-tech for the memory unit. This is important as you want it to be easy to find this person if your loved one’s medicine is late in arriving. Because one of my dad’s medicines needed to be given on time, I spent many hours wandering through the floors of Sunrise looking for the med-tech and because they did not have technology to reach the staff quickly, I was often given this response when I asked where the med-tech was: “Oh…she just went downstairs, I think.” It was then up to me to find her to haul her back to give my dad his medicine, which I was paying them to do.
I hope this helps you as you evaluate facilities and that you can learn from my mistakes. I am so happy that I found a facility that is well-run, my dad seems happy and most of all, I believe he is finally being well cared for. If you have any questions for me about what to look for or if you are worried about what you are seeing, please feel free to post in the comment section. I am happy to help guide you, if I can.