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New Ways to Care for People with Dementia

Elder abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report on a new treatment modality based in Phoenix, Arizona, coming out of a facility called Beatitudes. The advanced-dementia care center mirrors other, similar efforts to heighten the care of our nation’s dementia patients, such as the recently-featured Green House Project, and Chicago’s Pioneer Network.

Tena Alonzo is the director of education and research at the Beatitudes Campus, and recently sat down with the New Yorker to discuss the program, and how it differs from current, traditional dementia therapies. Certain behavioral traits, such as being violent or irritable, are commonly associated with dementia patients, however, Alonzo argues that they are not inevitable.

More than five million Americans have dementia, a number that is expected to grow exponentially as the baby boomers age. There is no cure for dementia, nor does there seem to be one on the immediate horizon. Instead of a cure, dementia patients are offered a comfortable decline as their best hope for the future. Too often, instead of a medical model of care, dementia patients are prescribed an array of antipsychotic medications to keep them as subdued and passive as possible.

This approach is not only ineffective, but it is critically endangering our nation’s senior citizens, often leading them to an early death. Several efforts have been established to counteract this trend: The Green House Project, which we recently wrote about and which pushes for creation of more intimate group homes, and the Pioneer Network, which urges medical reformation, including less reliance on antipsychotic medications.

Likewise, the Beatitudes Campus has become known as an innovator for holistic care models. The nursing home’s advanced-dementia unit is blocked at the elevator by velvet ropes which visitors must unhook to enter. There is a square of black carpet in front of the elevator as well, all meant to dissuade residents from wandering onto the elevator and off the campus (it has been found that dementia patients are unwilling to step onto such black spaces, thinking them to be holes).

The velvet ropes and black carpet space are just two of the ways Beatitudes differs from traditional nursing homes, which more often resemble institutions than living communities. Like The Green House Project, there are no set bed times or rising hours at Beatitudes, nor are there rigid schedules determining when residents can bathe.

Research has shown that, even after the experience is forgotten, dementia patients continue to release endorphins after a pleasant experience, which has a beneficial effect on their overall health and wellbeing. Knowing this, Beatitudes tries to provide its residents with positive experiences throughout their days, with periodic offerings of tiny sandwiches or other snacks offered throughout the day and meals served on brightly-colored plates and white tablecloths.

The cost of care at Beatitudes is, graciously, about the same as that of a typical nursing home. Nearly 40 people are currently living in the Beatitudes advanced-dementia ‘neighborhood,’ which features a sun room, a cat, and a generally serene atmosphere.

The principles behind Beatitudes,as those for Green House and Pioneer Network, are rooted in social psychology rather than profit-gains and occupancy percentages. They promote ‘person-centered’ care, and insist that those with dementia are not debilitated, but should be embraced for what they can teach us. It is self-evident but often-ignored that advanced Western societies regard frail elders with fear and unease, and are warehoused in nursing homes to be managed. These projects attempt to move beyond our societal anxieties so that the personhood of dementia patients can be conserved.

Until the 1980s, it was common practice to use vest straps and other restraints to sedate unruly resident; when this was banned, nursing homes started using chemical restraints (antipsychotic medications, such as Seroquel or Haldol) instead. At Beatitudes, residents who arrive with antipsychotic prescriptions are gradually weaned off, unless they have an underlying mental disorder, such as schizophrenia or hallucinations.

Beatitudes staff undergo extensive training, including being on the receiving end of daily practices, such as the brushing of their teeth and, even, wearing adult diapers. Alonzo described this experience as “kind of life-changing,” and the facility no longer uses diapers on most residents, instead bringing them to the bathroom after mealtimes. This has made both residents and staff happier.

There are three nursing homes in the U.S. that are actively adopting the principles and practices of Beatitudes: the Isabella Geriatric Center, the Cobble Hill Health Center, and the Jewish Home Lifecare, all in New York City.

Elder neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins encourage anyone with an aging loved one to consider all treatment and facility options before placing them in a skilled nursing or assisted living facility. If you or a loved one is already in a nursing home, and has been seriously injured by abusive or neglectful staff members, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for your injuries and emotional distress.