As many caregivers know, looking after someone with dementia in the home environment can be demanding, particularly when dementia has reached a more advanced stage. Livewell offers short-term dementia care, also known as respite care. It’s the ideal solution for caregivers who may need a little break from their responsibilities. They may wish to take a holiday, have a weekend away or just go out for a few hours, knowing that their loved one will be well cared for in a comfortable and stimulating environment. We chatted to Alice Bostock, Lifestyle Manager at Livewell Estates, Bryanston, about what impact short-term dementia care has on caregivers and people living with dementia.

What impact does short-term respite care have on those living with dementia?

One of the most important factors determining how well an individual with dementia thrives is whether they have a predictable routine that assists them with the most basic orientation and short-term memory loss. Respite care at Livewell offers this routine along with individualised and appropriate sensory and memory stimulation through engagement in meaningful activities.

Active engagement or exploration within activities activates the mind. It prevents sundowning behaviours and disease progression – I love the saying “If you don’t use it, you lose it”, as it applies to most parts of the human body, especially the brain. For example, if you go to the gym and build a six-pack, you will lose it if you suddenly stop going to the gym. The brain works the same way – dementia progression is slowed down through activation of the brain, which is not limited to the parts of the brain that control cognitive functions but includes the parts of the brain that control our movements and physical function. So, if you don’t use the brain, you lose the brain.

Respite care at Livewell offers this brain activation through engagement in individualised, meaningful activities.

Cognitive and social stimulation is important, and often dementia patients don’t receive enough of this in a home environment. How does respite care at Livewell help with this?

Each Livewell facility has a dedicated Lifestyle Department managed by an experienced Occupational Therapist. The Occupational Therapist is responsible for designing and ensuring the facilitation of holistic daily activity programmes that provide a healthy and balanced combination of routine, sensory stimulation, memory stimulation, social stimulation, cognitive stimulation, physical exercise, and regular engagement in specific activities that facilitate maintenance of independence in activities of daily living. These activity programmes are designed for the facility. The activities are further individualised according to each resident’s interests, sensory needs, and functional level after the occupational therapist’s thorough assessment.

People receiving respite care at Livewell benefit from an Occupational Therapy assessment and joining the activity programme facilitated at the facility, which provides them with routine and meets all of their stimulation needs through engagement in meaningful activities whilst facilitating social interaction with other residents.

How does Livewell help transition the person with dementia when only visiting the Estate for a few hours at a time?

It is well known that people with dementia have difficulty receiving, processing, and adapting to new information and circumstances. At Livewell, we prioritise finding out information about who they are as individuals, such as their interests, past profession/s, likes, and dislikes, to better understand what food, material objects, people, and activities are meaningful to our residents and incorporate them into the activity programme and transition process. By facilitating as much familiarity as possible, changes can be introduced slowly without being a scary or overwhelming experience for an individual who struggles with their memory and adaptation. Throughout the transitioning process, Livewell’s Lifestyle teams closely observe respite care receivers as they are introduced to the new people and routine and react immediately to their sensory needs if they display signs of over- or under-stimulation by the new environment. We keep in close contact with the families of our residents and respite care receivers to provide them with feedback and to ensure that we meet their stimulation needs appropriately and timeously.

Introducing a person with dementia to the Livewell facility and activity programme through respite care allows that person to familiarise themselves with the new environment, people, and routine, which makes the transition into long-term care easier to cope with for both the person with dementia and their primary caregiver.

Can such short visits cause any harm to dementia patients, i.e. leave them more confused about where they are etc.?

There is no short answer to this question, as it depends on various factors relating specifically to the individual, which include and are not limited to:
o Their stage of dementia and level of disorientation
o The circumstances under which they are brought in for the short visits (i.e. family dynamics/relationships, their understanding of the reasons why they are brought in, etc.)
o Their dependency on their primary caregiver

One of the main methods of reducing confusion and disorientation related to short visits would be to facilitate consistency and routine by ensuring that the visits occur on the same day of the week, at the same time of the day, for the same duration each day. After some time, which varies between individuals, the resident will become familiar with the routine which will prevent harm caused from disorientation.

What impact does respite care have on the caregiver?

The common saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup” is essential for a caregiver to bear in mind when deciding to place their loved one in respite care or not. Caregivers often suffer from the undeserved burden of guilt with feelings of not doing enough for their loved ones. The people being cared for also occasionally suffer from undeserved feelings of guilt for placing the burden of care on the caregiver. If you, as the caregiver, have emptied your cup, it is likely that the person you are caring for has noticed and needs a break, too – you have done more than enough and needed a break more than half a cup ago.

The definition of respite itself is “a short period of rest or relief” – respite care is not only restful for the person with dementia, but it is also restful for the caregiver. Respite care at Livewell is a breath of fresh air, which is essential in preventing caregiver burnout. It allows the caregiver the time and space to attend to their own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being with the peace of mind and knowledge that the person they are caring for is in good hands and is receiving the necessary stimulation to ensure the slow progression of their dementia. Respite care at Livewell also provides rest or relief for the person with dementia’s feelings of guilt around overburdening the caregiver. If you would like to find out more details about respite care, please contact our team.