A new type of memory care community is growing in popularity: Green House type memory care homes. They get their name from a project which was started in 2001 by Dr. Bill Thomas who envisioned homes instead of institutions for memory care. He founded the Green House Project.

Finding a facility that provides quality, sensitive, and effective care for seniors with memory loss can be exhausting. Not only are emotions high due to stress and anxiety caused by caregiving efforts, but seniors with memory loss are often more emotionally distressed and in danger than seniors without, since they are more likely to wander, forget medications, or neglect their health needs unless properly monitored and cared for. When the decision has been made to place a senior in a facility designed to specifically provide for their memory loss, caregivers may find that the philosophy behind a care center is an important factor in choosing it. An example of a philosophical option is a Green House (or similar type of) facility focusing on memory loss.

Aging in place is the best case scenario for many seniors, and, if that is no longer a possibility, seniors fare best in a situation that is as comfortable and emotionally supportive as possible. Many seniors (and younger people, as well) are uncomfortable in highly sterile, hospital-like environments, which can make death feel like too close a specter. Green House facilities seek to make care feel less like a part of a hospital and more like a large home for seniors with similar needs. Green Houses for seniors have ten to twelve older adults per large home, each with private bedrooms and bathrooms, but with shared social spaces such as kitchens and great rooms. This model means that seniors have private space, an opportunity for socialization in small groups or large groups, and highly individualized care by staff. The feedback is positive; studies and reviews indicate that these types of facilities are largely successful in implementing home-like expert care for seniors.

...caregivers are empowered with the majority of care decisions...

This type of care is even more appropriate for seniors with memory loss than those with other general health needs. Memory loss can often be worsened by emotional and physical distress, and care is best when maintained by trustworthy staff who understand these patients' needs. Administrators of such homes and the staff working in them are charged with finding positive, resident-based solutions to the problems caregiving presents, based on their expertise and knowledge of residents (whom they see nearly every day). This means that caregivers are empowered with the majority of care decisions, which often works well for residents since their caregivers know them best and have the most experience with them.

Green Houses focus on resident-prioritized needs. This means, from a practical standpoint, that residents often have flexible times for rising from bed, eating, and going to bed, which promotes independence and overall health, since seniors are not forced to abide by a schedule which may or may not work for them and their individual needs. It also means that staff members are not forcing seniors with memory loss, who can sometimes become confused or defiant in the face of schedule changes, to adopt different routines when they move into the facility. Adjusting to their schedules and simply ensuring the basics (that seniors have taken the appropriate medications, eaten a nutritious meal, and are bathed properly) of good caregiving, as well as providing social experiences, means fewer arguments and more positive, at home feelings for residents.

Staff are able to spend more time with residents ...

Among staff members, it seems that Green House type memory Care tends to have a less hierarchical and more social organization, promoting staff expertise and a focus on patient care, including day-to-day activities such as light cooking and cleaning. Research by Sharkey, Hudak, et al. compared Green Houses to traditional facilities, and they found that some administrators and staff members feel that Green House facilities foster a more comfortable and less demanding environment for staff members, the benefits of which are passed on to residents. Staff are able to spend more time with residents both in terms of direct care and general engagement without adding more staff. The Green House Project also boasts of financial savings for Medicare and Medicaid costs.

Green House Type Memory Care is Growing

The caveat here is that Green House facilities are relatively new but they are growing rapidly. They do not typically offer care for those seniors whose medical needs are severe. Most effective for those who are still relatively mobile, alert, and healthy, Green House-type memory care homes can best be used by those seniors who still require and desire social interaction and need relatively minimal care since they often have only a few caregivers on staff at any given time. Seniors with a lot of medical needs might find themselves in a time-crunch, sharing too few staffers with too many peers.

Green Houses type memory care homes are still not as prolific as traditional care homes, but, if this type of facility seems to be right for a senior in your care, you can find resources via the Internet at the click of a button. TheGreenHouseProject.org has many resources (and more information) on their website, and can link you to similar facilities across the country.

More from SeniorsMatter.com on Memory Care

Using A Private Sitter in Memory Care Facilities

Peck, Richard L. (August 1, 2009). Managing Alzheimer's in the Green House. Long-Term Living. Available at http://www.ltlmagazine.com/article/managing-alzheimers-green-house. Retrieved May 9, 2016.

TheGreenHouseProject.org. Discover. Available at http://www.thegreenhouseproject.org/about/discover. Retrieved May 9, 2016.

Sharkey, S., Hudak, S., et al. (January 2011). Frontline Caregiver Daily Practices: A Comparison Study of Traditional Nursing Homes and The Green House Project Sites. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 59(1):126-131.

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