Some assisted living facilities portray themselves as being capable of attending to all types of residents, including those who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. However, there is a big difference between the skilled nursing that is provided at a nursing home versus the non-skilled service that is provided at assisted living facilities. Nursing homes are also likely to have sufficient staff in place, as well as the specialized medical and surveillance equipment, that is needed for adequately taking care of Alzheimer’s or dementia patients.
Nursing homes that are equipped to handle Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are more likely to have the following specialized equipment and policies in order to prevent residents from hurting themselves or others:
Strict entrance/exit privileges for residents: Alzheimer’s or dementia patients are likely to wander and become lost, and this tendency can lead to their injury or death. For example, there is a case of a 90-year-old man who suffered from dementia and wandered away from the Sierra Oaks Assisted Living facility in Pennsylvania. After 10 days, authorities located the man’s body.
Visitor sign-in registry: Mentally challenged residents are more likely to be physically or sexually abused. A required sign-in registry keeps track of patient visitors and holds them accountable for the well-being of the patient.
Surveillance bracelets and alarms: Residents who have a tendency to wander may be outfitted and tracked with surveillance bracelets. Alarms on doors and windows can also help resolve problems with wandering residents.
Clearly marked walkways: Walkways both inside and outside the nursing home should be clearly marked, well lit, and should have directional signage and diagrams instead of written diagrams.
Circular configuration: Ideally, the nursing home should have a circular layout so that residents do not encounter dead-ends or right angles and become confused or agitated.
Patient/staff ratio: Residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s require more care and attention than other residents. Therefore, nursing homes that tend to Alzheimer’s residents should have a daytime patient/staff ratio no greater than 6:1. If the nursing home has a higher patient/staff ratio, it is unlikely to provide the skilled nursing that such residents require.
The above mentioned equipment and policies, as well as patient/staff ratio, are usually not in place at assisted living facilities. Can a nursing home also be negligent when it comes to Alzheimer’s resident care? Of course it can be. In 2008, a 72-year old man wandered away from Robbins Supportive Living, a nursing home that is located in Illinois. Two weeks later, authorities discovered the man’s body, lying facedown in the marshland, just 20 feet away from the facility.
Because particular care and attention must be exercised whenever Alzheimer’s or dementia patient care is concerned, it is advisable to first visit and inspect the candidate nursing home. This first visit should be announced to the staff at the nursing home so that they can show all the features of the facility. Following this initial and announced visit, a second and unannounced visit should be made to the facility. In this way, the day-to-day conditions of the nursing home can be observed firsthand. Staff will be less on-guard, and their job satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) will be more easily noted. Keep in mind that unhappy staff members usually translate to unhappy residents. By making such announced, and then unannounced, visits, the quality of skilled nursing for a loved one can be more accurately judged.