Creating a Dementia-Friendly Housing Environment

Creating a Dementia-Friendly Housing Environment

An Aging Population
According to an AARP study, only a fifth of Baby Boomers plan to move to a new geographic area when they retire. That means that most retirees are planning to age in their current community and hope to maintain their independence as long as possible. Property managers are experiencing a growing number of reports of resident isolation and medical challenges in their managed community. They are often able to identify signs that someone is struggling, ill or in need of help, and can be a resource to contact an appropriate organization or family member to intervene.

One common malady of the elderly is dementia; more than 5 million Americans currently suffer from the disease. Dementia is a general term for several types of brain cognition impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease, that cause changes in behavior and loss of function severe enough to affect an individual’s daily life. The disease is progressive, with most patients having only 6-8 years of life after diagnosis. There is no cure for dementia, and treatment focuses on maintaining the patient’s quality of life.

Symptoms of Dementia
Dementia symptoms begin with short-term memory impairment, personality changes, mood swings and the loss of some daily life functions such as preparing food or getting dressed. As time goes on, patients can become easily agitated and confused. They might get lost in their community or forget familiar faces, leave the stove on or water running until it floods their home, or their motor skills may become severe enough that they hurt themselves. They can also suffer from hallucinations, become aggressive, or become unable to speak or understand people talking to them.

These symptoms may be reported by a neighbor, but they may seem at first as if the senior has a short temper or is just “a little confused”. Because an onsite property manager or building staff member sees residents so frequently, they identify these signs and alert health professionals or a personal contact.   

To determine whether a resident is displaying the onset of dementia, look for these signs:

  • Does the resident have trouble understanding instructions or following a conversation?
  • Does the resident have trouble forming sentences or logical speech?
  • Does the resident curse, behave aggressively or verbalize nonsense words?
  • Does the resident lose things frequently, forget where they live or get lost in the building or community?
  • Has the resident caused a safety hazard through forgetfulness or motor skill problems?

How Property Managers Help
It is possible to create an environment in a community association that enhances a resident’s quality of life. Property managers should prepare for an encounter with a person with dementia before the situation occurs. Thinking through successful communication strategies, and identifying organizations that provide assistance that will give the manager the right resources to be helpful. Best practices for communication include:

  • Maintaining eye contact and a friendly demeanor
  • Avoiding touching the person or making quick movements
  • Speaking slowly, clearly and with a gentle, patient tone of voice
  • Talking to the resident rather than communicating in writing – the resident may have trouble reading and/or understanding
  • Avoiding arguments or complicated questions

To learn more about signs and symptoms of dementia, download the free app entitled “Dementia Guide Expert for Families” for iPhone or Android.

Read our related article, “How Aging in Place Affects Your Community.”