Seniors today are living longer and staying active well past what their parents or grandparents ever considered possible. But with this added longevity comes a range of physical issues, from worn-out knees and hips to losing cognitive touch with the people and memories that matter most.
Fortunately, Central Arkansas boasts a number of specialty care services, of which the following represents a small sample.
The decline of cognitive function, dementia, is arguably the greatest fear and most challenging health crisis seniors and their families can face. In fact, the stress of caring for a loved one with dementia is so great, it carries with it consequences for caregivers that are as serious as the disease itself.
About 65 percent of dementia cases fall under the Alzheimer’s header; in Arkansas, roughly 150,000 are living with the disease All dementia is progressive, but not all patients decline at the same rate. This open-ended timeframe makes it difficult for many families to form a plan or afford some kinds of care.
“Memory care ranges from $4,000 to $6,000 a month and this can last for years,” says Elise Siegler, president of Alzheimer’s Arkansas. “We’ve seen cases of folks with Alzheimer’s for more than 20 years.”
For the past 16 years, Alzheimer’s Arkansas has served as a resource for families dealing with a loved one’s dementia. In fiscal year 2016-2017, the organization awarded $232,000 in grants to attend to various needs of families. The group also sponsors support groups statewide.
“Support groups often become the second family to caregivers. It’s a safe environment to share their struggles, challenges and worries,” Siegler says. “It’s also a place where they can share successes and find solutions to everyday problems. You just never know what tips or tools someone is using that’s helpful to someone else.”
For those with the resources, memory care centers have become one of the hot new areas of senior health care, providing a safe space and mental and emotional stimulation that helps preserve quality of life as long as possible.
“Interaction and activities are the biggest part of memory care,” says Samantha Vaughan, memory care adviser for Memory Care of Little Rock at Good Shepherd. “When Mom or Dad is at home, they may not get a lot of stimulation from interacting with other people. A lot of their day is sitting in front of the TV.”
“What we find is getting them into activities and exercises and games, even if they can’t so much participate, provides stimulation by being around other people,” she says. “That’s really what benefits a lot of our residents.”
Woodland Heights’ memory care unit is just a year old and already the Little Rock senior community is expanding to accommodate its waiting list, as well as serve current residents whose changing needs require different levels of care.
“Within our assisted living residents, if it came to memory care, we didn’t have a place for them to go so they had to go outside our community,” says Yvette Jackson, memory care coordinator. “That’s translated to our opening up our memory care unit where they can remain here and get the services they require.”
Jackson said family input and participation are key elements in a patient’s treatment, and they help staffers to do their jobs.
“When they move in, we put together a ‘Getting to Know Me’ book and that book tells us what they did in their past life, tells the names of their kids, their favorite colors, what food they like to eat,” she says. “We do that with the family members and it helps us personalize our interaction with our residents.”
IN-HOME CARE/PHYSICAL THERAPY
Another fast-growing category of elder care is home health care.
“We are seeing a trend of more and more people wanting to remain at home as long as possible and, as long as it is in the best interes
t of their health and safety, it is good for people to be at home,” says Melanie Gloster, executive director of the Home Care Association of Arkansas.
According to Gloster, home health has become steadily more sophisticated and has also had to meet progressively more stringent guidelines to guard patient safety and ensure proper care.
Medically skilled providers are able to deliver medical services and therefore must be licensed; unskilled home health care workers generally provide assistance with the activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, etc.). Unskilled providers may also be licensed in order to serve Medicaid-eligible patients.
“We continually raise the standard of care, which is a good thing,” Gloster says. “Arkansas is known for having high expectations for caregivers and that certainly holds true for home health. What I have seen trending is patients are more educated, they have more freedom of choice and they educate themselves more about this agency versus that agency in order to make better decisions about their own health.”
Along with new rules have come new areas of treatment, including in-home physical therapy. According to Chad Lairamore, Ph.D., associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, students looking to enter the field receive much more instruction in treating geriatric patients.
“The demand for health care providers is going up as the population ages, so one of the things that we’ve really been focusing on is getting our providers out of silos, trying to teach them how to work in teams,” he says. “One reason for that is, as folks get older and things get more complex, more health issues are going on.
“Another reason is it helps a physical therapist understand other providers’ roles and responsibilities when a patient is referred to them, says Dr. Lairamore. “We’re definitely paying more attention to these subjects than we used to.”
Of all the specialty care categories, hospice has made the biggest strides coming into the public consciousness. Medicaid has only provided this field of care since the 1980s and many people, if they brought themselves to think about it at all, held a view of hospice that was rife with misconceptions.
“The general public has come a long way, but there are still are an awful lot of misconceptions about what hospice is,” says Catherine Grubbs, CEO of Circle of Life Hospice in Springdale.
“I think a lot of people hear the word ‘hospice’ and they assume that the person receiving that care has just days to live,” she adds. “One of the things that we do, a lot of it, is education in the community about the benefits of hospice and that it’s really about focusing on quality of life.”
According to Grubbs, Circle of Life, which has served Washington, Madison and Carroll counties via home hospice and two inpatient facilities for the past 25 years, strives to do this by providing a team approach that touches the needs of the whole patient.
“Our mission statement states we provide compassionate end-of-life care for a person’s body, mind, spirit and family,” she says. “I think one of the beautiful things about hospice is that we have chaplains, we have social workers and nurses trained in not only treating the physical but the spiritual and psychological needs of that patient.”
Arkansas Hospice, the largest hospice care organization in the state, serving 3,000 families a year, is equally dedicated to the family’s needs as they are to the patient. These services continue long after the patient has died.
“Bereavement care is a major part of what we do,” says Judy Wooten, Arkansas Hospice president. “We have a staff of bereavement professionals who start working with the families before the patient even passes away. When the patient does pass away, we’ve already got a relationship established.”
Wooten says individualized patient care from a team of professionals and attention to the family’s needs, both today and well into the future, is something that’s been part of Arkansas Hospice’s 25 years of operation. They are important points for family to consider when the time comes.
“Families need to understand what services are available that can help them and their family member choose the right provider,” she says. “There’s a basic level of services that all hospices provide and most are focused solely on the patient. We obviously are focused on the patient, but our care really focuses on the whole family. I think that’s what sets us apart from a lot of others in Arkansas.”