In 19 years in the assisted living industry, I have found that anyone who exhibits any symptoms of dementia are automatically labeled as having Alzheimers.  When I was in college, I had a professor who illustrated the differences between the two.  She said when you lose your keys and you can’t find them, that would be dementia; if you forget what the keys are for that would be Alzheimers.

One of the saddest cases I ever had was a friend asked me for some help with his mom who  had been placed in a locked Alzheimers unit.  He had visited our community and marveled at how sharp the residents were.  He said his mom was as sharp but she was in a locked unit.  He said he hated to visit her because the other residents were so out of it.  His description was they were catatonic. I asked whose decision it was to place her there and he said his sister.   I asked some more questions and told him I would be happy to visit her and give him feedback on what I found.

I went to visit and what I saw disturbed me to the core.  His mom was a very bright lady, extremely alert.  I was present when the caregiver came to assist with her meds.  The lady asked if the pill she was taking was for her hypertension – yes she used those words.  That was my first clue the lady was inappropriately placed.  The lady easily carried on a conversation and was quite lucid.  She talked about her care and said she was happy she could help out with the other residents who were obviously much worse off physically and mentally.  This lady would actually assist other residents.  She had the heart of a servant.  I walked away scratching my head on how such a sharp woman was placed in a locked unit.

I talked to the staff and they stated she was very sharp and indeed did help out with other residents.  I asked if she had ever tried to wander off and they said no she was quite compliant in every way.

Now I was on a mission.  I contacted the daughter who was responsible for placing her there.  She got real emotional when we spoke because she felt she had done something wrong.  I explained she acted with limited knowledge and I was there to help her on the request of her brother.  She said her mom had become forgetful and wasn’t taking her meds appropriately which is what prompted her to take her to the doctor in the first place.   I asked a lot of questions and what I came up with was the fact that she had taken her mother to a physician and he diagnosed her with Alzheimers so she found an Alzheimers unit.  I then asked what tests the physician had run and she said he hadn’t, he just talked with her.  I asked how long and she said about 5 minutes.

The pieces were finally coming together.  This lady acted in good faith based upon a diagnosis a physician had given her after a 5 minute chat.  What I was really angry about was the provider who was all too willing to place this woman in an environment she clearly was not appropriate for.  I  worked with the family to get her into a more suitable environment.  It took a lot because so many providers immediately were suspicious since she was coming from a locked unit.  I told them to tell the providers their “Geriatric Care Consultant” stated she was inappropriately placed where she was.

They eventually moved her to a Type A assisted living which not only saved them money but the resident was quite happy and had made a lot of new friends.  The move undoubtedly added years to her life.

This particular case ended well but highlights the need for an appropriate diagnosis and a lot of research to find the right placement.  Be an educated consumer and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.  Having dementia or forgetting things is not automatically Alzheimers.  A lot of people have confusion but can still be managed in a regular assisted living.  At Argent Court, we will not take people we do not feel are appropriate or who we cannot take care of.  In my mind, if the lady had a history of wandering, that would have been the only  reason to put her into a locked unit.

If you have any questions about your loved one, call us.  We’re here to help.