This may not seem to be the time to talk about culture when so much of what we see as culture has migrated to virtual access. But the pandemic has given us a lens to access cultures we may have previously ignored.
So, what exactly is culture?
One definition defines it as the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.1 Memory care is a particular people and social group whose customs, arts and achievements have proven to be successful for individuals with dementia. Research validates this when the constructs and care of the memory community are research-based and consistently maintained. Purpose-built dementia-friendly design with specific staffing, training and engagement provide individuals with dementia the opportunity to thrive in an enriched culture.2
Expanding on the idea of memory care as culture, the art, music, celebration, routine and consistency of focus are foundations of a quality memory care community.
This has been vividly apparent through the pandemic. While individuals living with dementia in other care settings have been significantly isolated, those in memory care have shown a continued quality of life as evidenced from family testimonial, and virtual confirmation. While they are not receiving visits, they are continuing to have the support of staff, the engagement of conversation and smaller groups and the daily enriched routine that those in other settings have been denied. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and window visits have added reassured families that their loved ones are doing well. Virtual visits have served as a health safeguard and a family reassurance.
Family satisfaction is a measure of culture change in long-term care.3 Happier families represent enriched culture. Families whose loved ones reside at memory care communities are reporting higher levels of satisfaction than those who have placed in other settings and even at home. The difference lies in the very qualities of good memory care: superior dementia-specific training, extra and consistent staffing; home-like environment and dementia-specific activities.
Have the lives of those in memory care communities been affected by COVID-19? Absolutely. But the effect has been far less traumatic according to families, and the individuals themselves.
The pandemic is serving as a filter for care partners to screen what they value and what is most important for their care partner no matter the crisis.
2 Abbott, K.M., Sefcik, J.S., & Van Haitsma, K. (2017). Measuring social integration among residents in a dementia special care unit versus traditional nursing home: A pilot study, Dementia (London), 16(3): 388-403.