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The Ultimate Guide to Memory Care Nursing

What Is Memory Care Nursing?

Along with the wisdom that comes with aging, elderly individuals often experience a range of health-related issues, such as memory loss, which may come in the form of Alzheimer's or another type of dementia. Coping with these illnesses is incredibly difficult for individuals diagnosed with these conditions and for their friends and family members. Memory care nursing, which supports these individuals throughout all stages of their diagnoses and daily lives, requires nurses to provide patients with compassionate care to support them during what is undoubtedly an incredibly difficult time, often mired with confusion and sadness. 

In this specialty guide, you'll learn about what memory care nursing is, how Alzheimer's and dementia are different, which are the early signs of these illnesses, and what it's like to be a nurse working in memory care. November, which is Alzheimer’s disease awareness month is a particularly relevant time to learn more about the disease by reading this guide or taking an Alzheimer’s/dementia course. Whether you're a new nurse or an experienced memory care nurse looking to better understand the projections for the future of this nursing specialty, keep reading to learn more. 

Table of Contents

The Rising Demand for Memory Care Nurses 

Due to the rising elderly population, the number of people who have Alzheimer's or other dementias has been increasing and is expected to continue to grow in the coming years. According to the Alzheimer's Association, deaths from Alzheimer's disease have increased by 145 percent in less than two decades between 2000 and 2019. 

Today, approximately 40 percent of people aged 65 years and above suffer from memory impairment. This figure consists of roughly 6.2 million older Americans with Alzheimer's disease and is expected to more than double by 2050, as 14 million Americans are expected to have Alzheimer's by that year. According to some estimates, this will lead to, at minimum, triple the number of Alzheimer's patients between 2000 and 2050. 

This increase in the number of Alzheimer's and dementia patients also creates an increase in demand for nurses specializing in memory care to fill memory care nursing jobs. In the US, over 11 million people provide unpaid care to people with Alzheimer's or other dementias, providing over 18 billion hours of care. As more individuals and families struggle to cope with the demands of caring for a patient experiencing memory loss, nurses are expected to fill in caregiving roles, helping ease the pressure on family members who may be struggling to understand the disease and lack the specialized knowledge and experience that a memory care nurse in this role would have. 

What Is Memory Care? 

Memory care is provided to seniors with forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, who are provided with a range of services, including 24-hour care and housing. Typically, facilities for people needing memory care are designed to prevent wandering, reduce confusion, and boost the individual's quality of life, providing them with meals, activities, and other support to ease the pressure of coping with such a life-altering illness. 

Memory care is provided by a range of facilities, which include the following: 

  • Nursing homes: These facilities provide long-term healthcare and around-the-clock services, including medical care. Nursing homes offer recreational activities, care planning, nutrition support, and more. 
  • Continuing care retirement communities (CCRC): CCRCs provide various levels of care, including independent, assisted living, and skilled nursing care based on needs.  
  • Assisted living facilities: These facilities, which can also be called board and care, adult living, or supported care facilities, provide a combination of services, including supportive services, housing, meals, and healthcare services. 
  • Retirement housing: These housing facilities are designed for individuals who can independently care for themselves and offer services, including transportation and activities. Retirement housing may be an appropriate option for someone in the early stages of Alzheimer's.
  • Alzheimer's special care units (SPUs) or memory care units: These units are specially designed facilities for Alzheimer's patients and patients with other forms of dementia and are found in various facilities, including residential care and assisted living communities. 

Residents in memory care facilities are typically provided with meals and assisted with various needs, from spiritual care and socializing needs to physical wellness. 

Typically, family members seek the support of memory care facilities and professionals if they are neglecting their work or themselves to provide care, if they're becoming irritable or stressed as a result of providing care, if their loved ones are unsafe in their homes, or if they believe the social interactions, structure, and other support provided by memory care facilities would better support their loved ones. 

Family members are encouraged to choose a facility by evaluating it based on its staff, programs and services, meals, environment, policies, and procedures. If you're a memory care nurse looking for your next opportunity, whether it is a per diem nursing shift or a longer contract with a facility, you can also research these aspects of a facility to determine whether it will be a suitable fit for you. 

Learn More about Assisted Living Facilities

What Is Alzheimer's Disease? 

Alzheimer's disease, also known simply as Alzheimer's, is a chronic condition that gradually impairs memory and other vital mental abilities, impacting a person's behavior. The disease disrupts the brain's microscopic processes before memory loss occurs. 

Alzheimer's affects the brain cells’ ability to function correctly, leading to breakdowns and backups within the brain's systems. Cells begin to lose their functionality as the damage progresses, eventually dying and leaving the brain permanently altered.

Alzheimer's disease has been a subject of intensive biomedical research since its initial description by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. Significant progress has been made in understanding how the disease affects the brain, with the hope of developing new treatments; however, there is no cure. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the burden of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias in the US is rising. In 2014, an estimated 1.6 percent of the population, or 5 million people, were estimated to have Alzheimer's. By 2060, this number is expected to grow, impacting 3.3 percent of the population or 13.9 million individuals.

What Are the Early Signs of Alzheimer's?

In the early stages of the disease, individuals with Alzheimer's may find that they experience challenges in planning and problem-solving and are slower to complete tasks. Individuals may also have challenges with visual perception and spatial relationships, have confusion regarding time or place, and struggle with familiar tasks. 

Forgetfulness, decreased judgment, withdrawal from activities, and changes in mood and personality are additional signs of Alzheimer's. Language-related issues may occur, which include difficulty following conversations or finding the right words while communicating. 

While occasional age-related memory or judgment changes are typical, the severity and impact of these symptoms may be an early warning sign of Alzheimer's and require medical attention. Seeking professional evaluation is essential for accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.

In most people with Alzheimer's, symptoms appear in their mid-60s or later. However, it is also possible, although rare, for individuals to experience young-onset Alzheimer's, meaning that they show symptoms of the disease from as young as 30 years of age.

Old women with Alzheimer's Disease in wheelchair in front of medical facility
Old women with Alzheimer's Disease in wheelchair in front of medical facility

What Are Treatments for Alzheimer's Disease? 

Various Alzheimer's medicines on the market can help individuals with memory symptoms and other unwanted cognitive changes. Here are some of these medications:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors: These medicines boost levels of cell-to-cell communication and preserve a chemical messenger depleted in the brain by Alzheimer's disease. These medicines lead to modest improvements in symptoms in most people, including behavior changes such as depression or agitation. As the disease progresses, these medicines lose their effectiveness. 
  • Memantine: This medicine works in another brain cell communication network to slow the progress of symptoms in those with moderate to severe Alzheimer's and can sometimes be used with a cholinesterase inhibitor. 

These medications have various side effects and may not be appropriate for everyone with Alzheimer's. Individuals must speak with their primary medical providers for diagnoses and treatment plans, which also may include vitamins and herbal supplements. 

Treatment plans for individuals with dementia include creating safe and supportive environments and putting systems in place for them to cope and thrive as best as possible, given their diagnoses and medical conditions. A treatment plan may include establishing routines, designating a plan of who will provide care for the individual with dementia and where they will be housed, and exploring how they can remain social and active. A treatment plan can include practical aspects such as managing finances, installing at-home security mechanisms such as alarms and sensors, and creating a medical bracelet for the person with Alzheimer's.  

What Is Dementia? 

Dementia is a general term used to refer to memory loss which impacts daily life and is caused by physical changes in the brain. The loss of memory, language, problem-solving skills, and other cognitive abilities significantly affecting daily living are all signs and symptoms of dementia. 

The most frequent cause of dementia, accounting for between 60 to 80 percent of cases, is Alzheimer's disease. Vascular dementia, caused by brain blood vessel blockage or bleeding, is the second most common form. Signs and symptoms of vascular dementia overlap those of Alzheimer's and include confusion, trouble concentrating, slowed thinking, difficulty organizing, and a decline in the ability to analyze, plan, and communicate. Other types of dementia include frontotemporal dementia (also known as Pick's disease or frontal lobe dementia), dementia with Lewy bodies, and Parkinson's disease dementia. Mixed dementia can occur when multiple types of dementia are present simultaneously. 

Symptoms and signs of dementia can vary widely, including short-term memory loss, difficulty managing finances or planning meals, and problems with spatial orientation. An extensive medical evaluation, including medical history, physical exam, and cognitive tests, is required to diagnose dementia. 

The number of people with dementia is projected to increase, as are the costs associated with caring for this population. Currently, dementia is estimated to cost the nation $345 billion, which is projected to rise to nearly $1 trillion by 2050. 

Old women with dementia sitting in front of hospital
Old women with dementia  in front of the hospital

What Is Dementia Care?

Assisting individuals with dementia in managing their symptoms and maintaining a fulfilling life is the goal of a specialized support system known as dementia care.

This comprehensive form of care involves trained and experienced caregivers who assist those with various dementia types, including Alzheimer's, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, mixed dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. 

Dementia care encompasses all stages of the condition, starting from the early signs of memory difficulties and progressing to later stages with increased challenges, such as wandering or difficulty eating.

Practical support is provided through numerous activities, including therapies, dietary adjustments, and physical activity, to help patients deal with challenging behaviors and sundowning. Improving the health and quality of life of dementia patients is essential to their care. The ultimate goal is for them to continue enjoying quality time with loved ones, engaging in their favorite activities, and staying home.

What Is the Difference between Alzheimer's and Dementia? 

Learning about dementia vs. Alzheimer's can be confusing as they appear to be quite similar and are sometimes used as interchangeable terms. Dementia is a condition characterized by memory problems and thinking difficulties that impact a person's capacity to perform daily tasks; Alzheimer's disease is a brain condition that begins years before symptoms show and is the most frequent reason for cognitive loss. Initially, it presents mild symptoms that do not interfere with daily life. 

Dementia is a progressive condition—most common amongst people 65 years of age and above—which involves memory loss, confusion, language and comprehension difficulties, and behavioral changes, all of which worsen over time. While there are many types of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, a chronic neurodegenerative disease that destroys brain cells, is the most common form.

What's It Like Working in Dementia Care Facilities? 

In dementia care facilities, specifically in memory care units, the focus is on providing specialized care to individuals experiencing memory issues and dementia. The duties of memory care nurses include providing constant care, helping with daily activities, and promoting cognitive engagement. 

Developing strong relationships with residents is a crucial aspect of the job, although it can also take an emotional toll on nurses as dementia-related illnesses may result in the loss of patients. 

Those who work in memory care nursing need to be compassionate, caring, and patient, as the behavioral changes resulting from dementia can be frustrating for caregivers. Additionally, there is a potential for aggressive behaviors, such as physical violence, from patients with dementia. These potentially aggressive behaviors can result in a stressful environment for nurses working in memory care, who are expected to provide a range of support for individuals, including reassuring them and making them feel safe and comfortable. 

Working in dementia care facilities provides an opportunity to make a genuine impact on the lives of residents by offering compassionate support. Researching facilities beforehand to ensure you are working in a nurturing and supportive environment—despite the possible challenges you may encounter in this nursing specialty—is crucial as you explore how to find dementia care nursing jobs. 

Are you a memory care nurse wondering, “How can I pick up a high paying per diem shift in memory care units near me?” Browse Nursa’s open healthcare marketplace today and pick up nearby PRN nursing jobs.

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