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The Bluffs' new wing will help with care for Alzheimer's patients

Monday, April 27, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – It's a futuristic-sounding vision of a nursing home: Wii gaming consoles, GPS and weight-loaded floor sensors to detect falls.

Within two years, this technology will be a reality at a new facility being built at The Bluffs, a nursing home with a special care unit for people with Alzheimer's disease. 

Other Alzheimer's special care units in Columbia

Columbia Health Center - 20 beds

Lenoir Health Care Center - 17 beds

Parkside Manor - 11 beds

Bluff Care Terrace - 12 beds

Candlelight - 18 beds



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"We want to be on the cutting edge, and hopefully we can become a model for nursing homes across the country," said Gary Sluyter, executive director of the facility in southeast Columbia located at 3105 Bluff Creek Drive. 

In a recent poll, conducted by The Bluffs, there is currently one special care bed for every 19.2 people requiring s such care in Columbia. Sluyter said that's what has spurred the facility to build the new unit.

The current cost to live at the The Bluffs' special care unit, called the Maple wing, depends on the accommodations. As of Feb. 1, a private room costs $162.61 per day while a semi-private room costs $154.23 per day.

The Alzheimer's Association Mid-Missouri chapter says there are 5.5 million Alzheimer's patients in the U.S. By 2050, the number could be anywhere from 11 million to 16 million.

The new facility will include six new technologies that will help nurses and doctors monitor and manage certain aspects of dementia-related diseases:

  • A new system of early detection and recognition will help doctors better diagnose and treat patients.
  •  Safety enhancement via a network of cameras can detect that a patient is in danger of falling. (According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the fifth leading cause of death in the elderly is injury, and most of those injuries are the result of falls.)
  • Utilization of Global Position System, GPS, to help detect if dementia patients are wandering off.
  • Cognitive stimulation through such systems as Nintendo's Wii gaming console.
  • A new enhanced call and communication system.
  • Increased accuracy in medical record-keeping though electronic records.

The Bluffs has 16 special care units for patients with Alzheimer's and other dementia illnesses. This new addition, which is in the final planning stages, will add 24 new beds. Sluyter said that the previous 16 beds would be converted into a "Step-Down Unit" in which roughly 16 residents with advanced stages of the disease would be housed.

With the completion of the new building, the Bluffs will hire 20 full-time equivalent employees, Sluyter said. A full-time equivalent is equal to 2,080 hours in a year. Sluyter doesn't know exactly how many individuals that will be because The Bluffs may hire some part-time and some full-time employees, he said.

Treating Alzheimer's is a tricky business, said Joel Shenker, who specializes in the management of memory loss and dementia-related illnesses.

"The hardest part is actually getting these people to come see me," Shenker said.

While Alzheimer's is incurable, there are management methods that greatly help the individual. Shenker noted that if he can successfully diagnose an individual, he can then begin to work with their family to "safen-up" their environment.

"Most people with Alzheimer's are elderly. Many of these people have very routine days that don't require much memory recall," Shenker said. But when that person needs to keep track of his blood sugar and receive insulin because he's diabetic, then the dementia begins to affect the patient, he said.

While Shenker emphasized that Alzheimer's can only be managed, he said nursing facilities, like The Bluffs are "absolutely essential." Shenker does not work at The Bluffs, but is a neurologist at Neurology Inc.

"We need more places or have to find a way to care for elderly people who cannot care for themselves. It's a problem with our culture," Shenker said, noting that it can be very difficult for families to uproot and devote all of their time to the care of an older family member with dementia.

"I would love for you to come in and say, 'I have this, this and this,' which means Alzheimer's. I give you a blue pill and tomorrow you wake up all better," Shenker said. "But we can't and we may never." 

With the completion of the new special-care wing, Myra Aud, a registered nurse and associate professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing, hopes to give future nursing students a look at more advanced care and monitoring of Alzheimer's patients.

Working closely with the engineering department, Aud has been involved in the development of some of the facility's new technologies, such as the floor sensors that, along with a complex camera system, can help detect a fall or even a change in a resident's behavior that may indicate illness.

Aud takes students to The Bluffs as part of their clinical training. A specialist in gerontology and dementia, Aud oversees students as they spend four days working alongside staff members at The Bluffs learning how to care for the elderly.

"There are some things about you and I that don't apply to 80- and 90-year-olds," she said.

The Bluffs' building design should be finalized in the next two to three months, Sluyter said, and then the bidding process will be opened. The Bluffs hopes to break ground on the new building late this year with the help of an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health Resources and Services Administration. The Bluffs is managed by the Boone County Senior Citizens Service Corporation, a nonprofit organization, and chartered by the state.

The Bluffs is one of many nursing homes in the Columbia area that works with the Alzheimer's Association's Mid-Missouri Chapter on several different aspects of geriatric care, such as the training of its staff. The mid-Missouri chapter works with all nursing homes in the area.

"We support any new investment in the care of Alzheimer's patients and are always excited to see people going above and beyond," said Ashley Burden, the communications and marketing coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association of Mid-Missouri.

 


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