The increase in the number of patients with some form of dementia or Alzheimer's disease has been well documented over the past several years. Current estimates from the Alzheimer's Association put the number of patients at 6.2 million Americans ages 65 or older, with 12.7 million expected to develop some form of dementia by 2050.
Numbers like these show a clear trend: dementia is becoming seriously prevalent all across the country — to say nothing of the world. In order to best serve the dramatic influx of patients expected over the next three decades, the health care system will need to be adaptable to the needs of this growing population of susceptible older adults. One of the best ways to achieve this is to embrace an emerging branch of health care operations known as patient experience.
When effectively implemented, patient experience programs can give people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease a better relationship to their memory care services. This can lead to better health care outcomes and put them on the path toward a more comfortable overall quality of life.
Memory Care and Patient Experience
Patient experience should be thought of as completely different from health care products and services. While the two are intricately entwined, thinking of experience as its own end helps care providers and family members be more purposeful about how they design and administer health care around the specific needs of their dementia patients.
So many health care services have moved online, and that has certain benefits when it comes to convenience. But complementary improvements in the overall patient experience have not necessarily kept up. When poorly thought through, technology can prove to be an unnecessary stumbling block that can undermine a patient's efforts to learn more about their situation. Sometimes patients just need to have a face-to-face interaction to get the information they need or to find that extra peace of mind.
Similarly, dementia care patients may have access to suitable medications — but in many cases, the symptoms that those medications are designed to treat may be exacerbated by the same hospital environment that is supposed to make them feel better. In other words, something about the environment itself might be triggering the need for more (or more frequent) medication. An example of this might be something as unassuming as a flickering fluorescent light that can be seen from a patient's room, which becomes a source of constant anxiety.
Patient experience seeks to identify areas that this, where — in concert with goods and services — dementia patients can have an improved quality of life that can not be achieved through medications, procedures, or other such medical interventions alone. By investing in patient experience, people receiving dementia care will have access to an entire new approach to managing their condition for the better.
Dementia Care Focused on Experience
With 49 percent of health care executives naming patient experience as a high priority, it is worth considering some of the concrete steps that can be taken in order for primary care physicians and family caregivers to help their dementia care patients. With the rise in the number of older adults in need of memory care, more and more memory care facilities are opening, so it is possible that one might soon appear in your area — if it has not already.
Here are some of the elements of successful patient experience programs in dementia care settings.
Empathy and Compassion
It is no secret that primary care physicians are under lots of pressure to move through patients as quickly as possible. That can be good for keeping wait times down, but it can also leave patients feeling like their needs are not being taken seriously, treated thoroughly, or diagnosed accurately.
Extending empathy and compassion are great ways to cater to the patient experience because that practice seeks to treat patients as real people with real problems, rather than just another case. This can be especially impactful in dementia care because of the complex nature of their needs. When dementia caregivers are empathetic and compassionate with their patients, it validates their experience and makes them feel more self assured and confident in their level of care.
Strategic Environmental Design
When you think about the typical medical environment, you probably picture bright lights, white walls, and clean lines. These design choices are selected to convey to patients that they are in a sterile environment and that they do not have to worry about whether or not they will leave the hospital with a different medical issue than the one they had when they arrived. It offers a concrete solution to an understandable patient anxiety.
A dementia patient has plenty of anxieties of their own — and while the risk of infection might be among them, many stem from their cognitive condition. Accordingly, it is important for the spaces they inhabit to be designed with consideration for the state of mind of a person with Alzheimer's disease or a dementia diagnosis. Here are some suggestions for how to make this happen:
- Add sitting areas at the end of corridors: People with dementia can easily get tunnel vision in long, straight corridors, and dead ends can be frustrating. Sitting areas can make these spaces more inviting.
- Misalign the placement of objects: For similar reasons as the need to add sitting areas, keeping things slightly out of alignment can break up spaces that might otherwise lead to tunnel vision. This introduces a more winding, ambulatory experience for people with dementia.
- Decorate with items from the past: Placing things around the space that indicate a different era can help root dementia care patients to the past — and help them access the memories that the past contains. Posters for Golden Girls or playlists inspired by Fleetwood Mac are great ways to achieve those throwback feels that might spark memories in a dementia care setting.
Invest in High Tech Solutions
It might seem counterintuitive to offer new technologies to an aging population, but the past decade has seen great advances in user friendliness. Installing smart technologies that control things like lighting and temperature can help make the basics of daily living less stressful for people who are in need of simple solutions, and video-capable touchscreens can allow dementia care patients to request services or stay connected with friends and family members with just a couple of taps on a screen.
With a focus on the patient experience for people with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, memory care facilities can greatly improve their community services in a way that leads to a better overall quality of life for their dementia care patients. As more and more memory care facilities invest in the kinds of details outlined above, the growing population of people with a dementia diagnosis will be able to access better and better care to support them throughout their later years.
Home Health Tips for Family Caregivers
Not every facility is capable of investing in the kinds of patient experience improvements outlined above. Some of them are quite expensive — especially outside of the professional medical environment. As more and more people opt for home health care, the costs of providing high quality memory care can become prohibitive.
In situations like this, it is critical for family caregivers to be able to find adequate support. In fact, the top priorities for dementia caregivers are information about dementia, help navigating the health care system, and help with social activities. Support for all of these needs can be found through consultation with home health care professionals.
It is important to note that there is a gap between the priorities of family caregivers and those of people with dementia. While both groups value social activities highly, older adults actually say they have the greatest need for in-home care and help with daily activities. Taking those preferences into consideration can go a long way toward ensuring that your family member is getting the most out of their home health care program.
Including your loved one in the conversation about how their dementia care is structured can lead to dramatic improvements in patient experience. And, what is more, you can also save yourself and your family members a lot of valuable time and money by zeroing in on what is the most important way to provide the right support.
Keystone Health can provide your family with a home health care program that strikes the right balance of need between family caregivers and dementia care patients alike. Our team of home health care professionals can give your loved one the in-home care and assistance with day to day tasks to support them, while also directing you to the best information and resources on their condition and helping you to navigate the complexities of the larger health care system.
If you or a loved one is in need of home health care services that focus on patient experience, start the New Patient Process today. Keystone Health provides the greater Boise area with housecalls and home health care services so that older adults can experience a greater quality of life from the comfort of their homes.