Posted: May 15, 2019
Memory loss affects many seniors and their loved ones. Without the proper care and support, those suffering from cognitive decline risk losing their independence and even their dignity.
At Casey’s Pond, memory support services focus on providing the highest possible quality of life for residents and their families. Melissa Bray, Assisted Living and Memory Support Director at Casey’s Pond, trains staff to understand the differences between memory changes, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments. She said it’s essential to understand the differences, as well as the various stages of each condition or disease, in order to provide the best care possible.
“There are residents in all levels of living here at Casey’s Pond with a cognitive support need,” said Melissa Lahay, Director of Sales and Marketing at Casey’s Pond. “A common myth for families is, ‘if my loved one has a dementia diagnosis, then they need to live in a (specialized) memory support neighborhood,’ but this is not always the case.’”
In realizing that lifestyle habits can have such positive impacts on those with cognitive decline, Casey’s Pond is also trying to spread awareness that such a diagnosis doesn’t equal hopelessness.
“There’s this tragedy narrative that tends to go along with dementia, but we’re trying to change that by showing that you can still live a life with joy,” said Catherine Reese, Lifestyle Director at Casey’s Pond. “Our intervention here can turn that narrative into meaningful living and helps people avoid the decline of dementia. There is hope for people.”
Healthy lifestyle habits can prevent or slow cognitive decline
Last year, Casey’s Pond hosted several classes on the NEURO Plan, a program designed to prevent and reverse symptoms of cognitive decline at every age. The program — which is outlined in “The Alzheimer’s Solution,” a book by neurologists and researchers Dean and Ayesha Sherzai — is about living in a way that promotes the health of your brain and body. NEURO stands for Nutrition, Exercise, Unwind, Restore, and Optimize.
“Brain health can only be achieved through whole body health. When you address vascular risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and microvascular disease, you protect not only your heart and kidneys but also your brain,” according to the authors. “When you work to achieve metabolic and hormonal balance to prevent diabetes, nutrient deficiencies, and immune disorders, you also decrease the risk of cognitive decline. Health is synergistic: anything that is good for the rest of the body is good for the brain, and vice versa.”
The authors’ research shows that 90 percent of us can avoid ever getting Alzheimer’s, and even those with a strong genetic risk can delay the onset by 10 to 15 years, by making the right lifestyle choices.
“This isn’t just an estimate or wishful thinking: it’s a figure based on rigorous science and the remarkable results we’ve seen in our clinic,” according to the book’s introduction.
Lahay said these NEURO prevention methods are incorporated into the culture and lifestyle at Casey’s Pond.
“We want to empower people with the tools and knowledge of how to prevent this disease and support those who are living with it already,” Lahay said.
Reese said the lifestyle components are very closely aligned with Blue Zones research, which examines the common habits of the world’s longest-living populations. In these geographic Blue Zones around the world, dementia among people over the age of 85 is about 75 percent less common than it is in the United States. Depression, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes are also rare.
“These lifestyle factors, they could help those who are experiencing cognitive decline and prevent them from getting to the point of forgetting a family member’s name,” Reese said. “Nobody ever wants to forget their most cherished loved ones.”
Both NEURO and Blue Zones lifestyles include regular exercise, mostly plant-based diets, de-stressing or unwinding activities such as meditation or walking, living with purpose, keeping the brain active through learning and stimulation, and many other common themes.
These lifestyle habits are promoted within the culture at Casey’s Pond through activities like music, mindful breathing and movement, brain boosters, puzzles, creative arts and plant-based food options.
Reese has also started a monthly Longevity Lifestyle talk this year to present information about these healthy habits to residents and their families.
“We believe that there is great joy in community and that everyone who is a part of Casey’s Pond has an opportunity to thrive and not just survive,” Reese said.
Support through compassionate caregiving
All staff at Casey’s Pond, not just caregivers, receive specialized training in working with residents who suffer from cognitive decline. This includes guidance for dealing with residents who might exhibit difficult behaviors, and it also encourages family members to attend support groups, family meetings and care plan meetings.
Casey’s Pond makes special efforts to make the living environment comfortable for residents with age-related cognitive decline. Residents are encouraged to furnish their rooms with as many familiar personal possessions as possible, and they’re always encouraged to bathe, dress, eat, groom and use the bathroom independently if they’re able.
Encouraging residents to participate in the things they did at home, such as doing the laundry, preparing or cleaning up after meals, gardening and dusting, is known as normalization and also helps prevent or slow cognitive decline.
“Through lifestyle intervention, we can help people stop the progression of their cognitive decline,” Reese said, “or even regain some of the things that were lost.”
This article originally appeared on the Steamboat Pilot & Today and is used by permission.