It is incredibly difficult to make the choice to commit someone you love to full-time medical care, especially if they are elderly and you are aware that your remaining time with them is limited.
As their cognitive and physical capacity decreases, however, professional care can improve their quality of life and their experience of life. This is especially valuable for dementia patients, who can benefit enormously from specialised programmes and activities that both accommodate and relieve the many complications they experience, and help slow down their cognitive decline.
Dementia patients commonly experience confusion, anxiety, disruptive memory loss, decreased judgement, difficulty with speech, and mood changes, and this is only a number of the symptoms. Often, their illness causes them to withdraw from social and physical activities, which makes matters worse. Dementia can be managed but not cured. The emphasis for caring for dementia patients is therefore on enabling them to remain active and socially engaged for as long as possible, and enjoy living a quality life.
Home-based care in the early stages of the condition is a practical option for many spouses or families, and there are many rewarding and joyful activities that they can engage in easily with their loved one, for example walking in nature, playing music, and doing arts and crafts.
For some families, a dedicated facility such as Livewell Villages can be invaluable, especially as the condition progresses and their loved one needs increasing care, for example with dressing warmly or switching off the electric blanket in winter, or with eating and personal hygiene on a day-to-day basis. Every room has a call button for emergencies and can accommodate assisted showering.
Although they are healthcare facilities, Livewell residences look and feel like boutique hotels. The rooms are beautifully designed and luxurious, the grounds are gorgeous and extensive, and throughout the property there are groups of people enjoying a game on the bowling green, or practicing yoga, or drumming, or baking or doing woodwork, or strolling with their dogs. There are even one or two people getting their nails done.
Families who are considering full-time care for their loved one with dementia can visit the facilities and consult with Livewell’s family advisors before making a decision.
The suites are provided fully furnished, but many residents prefer familiar furniture and other household items.
As part of the admissions process, an interior consultation will be undertaken with the family to establish how to decorate the suite prior to the new resident moving in.
‘What we are trying to do is create a familiar space for our newcomers, easing the transition into their new home,’ explains Ivan Oosthuizen, Livewell’s CEO.
The facility accepts people who are diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Its in-house occupational therapist creates a personalised programme for each resident that includes structured activities and managed outings. It provides 24/7 nursing care and medical emergency services, personal grooming, pet care, and one-on-one care as needed, in addition to practicalities such as meals, laundry and security. Its staff is trained to understand many of the presentations of dementia and how to handle them.
Oosthuizen says: ‘We take over the complete care of our residents, including management of their medication, taking them to doctor’s appointments, making sure they eat well, helping them to dress, walking their dog, and all the daily things that would normally happen in a familial setting.’ By taking on this role, the Livewell professional team is able to ensure a better quality of life for the individual and provide relief to the family.
Each of the facility’s nursing care teams is dedicated to a small group of residents, depending on the specific needs of individuals in the group. Each team includes a Quality of Life Leader, a registered nurse, and as many as ten caregivers. The Quality of Life Leader is usually a social worker and acts as the family liaison, keeping up regular correspondence via email or text. Each resident is assessed by the facility’s occupational therapist a number of times during the year, and the team is advised accordingly.
Ivan Oosthuizen, Livewell’s CEO, says: ‘We have a programme that is tailor-made to improve quality of life. We encourage residents to experience social interaction and also participate in physical exercises. We present a number of activities such as croquet, yoga and dancing, and we also present stimulatory activities to maintain reasonable cognitive functioning. We aim to minimise the rate of degeneration of the brain. We cannot completely stop the decline, but we can try to slow it down.’
The activities and outings are intended to improve socialisation and provide sensory stimulation. Apart from the opportunity to move beyond the facilities at the village, it also helps combat frustration, loneliness and depression. All activities are monitored closely by the nursing care teams.
Livewell follows a ‘no restriction of movement’ policy, and all residents may roam freely within the grounds.
Association with friendly animals is shown to have a number of positive health impacts for people, including lowering blood pressure and reducing stress. For dementia and Alzheimer’s patients,it has strong therapeutic value, for example through providing them with emotional support, encouraging them to engage in physical and social activities and, at the least, alleviating tedium through their antics.
Quite simply, their animal companions are loving, funny, entertaining and, most importantly, warm and cuddly. People love their pets, and Livewell makes an effort to accommodate them. Residents can keep pets in their suites, and family dogs can come with on family visits. As part of the service offered, resident animals are groomed, fed, exercised, and taken to the vet when needed.
Oosthuizen explains: ‘Our real drive at Livewell is being able to say: “What are your loved one’s needs today?; Are you comfortable?; Don’t fear, we are on this journey with you.” We help families find a personalised and comprehensive solution for accommodation and care. Everything we do is tailored to the individual, and their overall cognitive functioning and remaining abilities.’
Livewell offers permanent residence, couples residence, day visitor care, and frail care. When residents are no longer independent, they receive one-on-one care.
Even with the best care in the world, it remains a is stressful endeavour living with a family member diagnosed with dementia, as they may exhibit behaviour such as anger and resentment, and even fail to recognise their spouse or children. Families that opt for a home-based care solution need to pay special attention to their own psychological and emotional needs. To prevent burn-out or compassion fatigue, Livewell encourages and facilitates support groups for the families and primary caregivers of people with dementia – whether they are residents or not – as a community service.