Thrive is an HHCN series that explores the successes, struggles and strategies of home care owners and operators on the local level.
The number of American seniors with Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise, with about 5.5 million people over 65 affected. By 2025, that number could reach 7.1 million, up nearly 29%, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
On top of that, the estimated cost of caring for Americans with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is about $277 billion a year.
After noticing the rising prevalence of dementia and its impact, a New Hampshire home care agency joined the droves of U.S. home-based care providers trying to make a difference — while also distinguishing its business from local competitors.
In April, BrightStar Care of Bedford and Manchester in New Hampshire became the first at-home care agency in the state to offer virtual dementia tours to help staff, families and referral sources understand what it’s like to live with the condition.
“We feel that adding the virtual dementia tours (VDT) to our list of differentiators will position us as a leader in dementia care in our market,” franchise owner Melissa Janicke told Home Health Care News. “Our goal is to be a resource for our facility partners as well as the families we care for in our community.”
Chicago-based BrightStar Care is a home-based care franchise with more than 325 locations nationwide offering medical and non-medical services, along with medical staffing. Meanwhile, Janicke’s agency is the only BrightStar location in New Hampshire.
“There are several benefits to this program, but I think our initial attraction to it was just being able to offer something different,” Janicke said. “This really allows us to offer something no one else can.”
While the Bedford-based agency may be alone in its state, it isn’t alone in its aim nationwide. As of late, a growing number of providers big and small have expressed interest in dementia care.
For example, last month, Chris Dobbin — CEO of the Canada-based, up-and-coming home care company Nova Leap — told HHCN the company’s goal as it continues to expand across North America is to dominate in-home dementia care.
And last year, CEO of home care agency Regent Healthcare — one of the largest, non-franchised home care agencies in Maryland — told HHCN mandatory dementia training is key to boosting its retention and revenue.
Like other agencies who have chosen similar paths, a majority of the New Hampshire BrightStar location’s clients have varying degrees of dementia.
So when Janicke came across the VDT program from aging nonprofit Second Wind Dreams in late 2018, she quickly realized it would be a good fit.
Her team began the training required to add the program in Q1 of 2019. The program went live April 1.
“The first step [was] putting our office team through it,” Janicke said. “It’s very important when we take on a client suffering from dementia that the office team can empathize with what they’re going through.”
Next, the agency added the tours to their new hire training, making them a requirement for any new field members coming on board.
“Thirdly, we’re taking it on road to [referral] facilities we work with to have their staff and family members of residents potentially go through it,” Janicke said. “I really feel that it’s powerful for anyone who is touching someone who is affected by dementia.”
However, as a condition of the agency’s agreement with Second Wind Dreams, Janicke can’t share details of the training.
Generally, while dementia training and tours vary depending on who created them, they often use a number of methods and tools to impair participants’ senses to help them understand what it might be like to live with dementia.
“Any kind of hint kind of ruins it for anyone who is going to experience it in the future,” she said. “You think you know what it’s going to be, and it’s not. It’s a complete sense of sensory deprivation. It gives you insight into what it’s like to live with impared senses.”
While the agency did not yet have data to share regarding the success of the program, anecdotally, they can already see the training making a difference, Tammy Ham, director of business for the location, told HHCN.
She pointed to an interaction with a high-level dementia client from earlier this year as an example.
“She wanted to walk the neighborhood like she had prior to her hospitalization,” Hamm said. “However, it was below zero out, and she couldn’t understand that, so she became very violent when we told her [no]. But having caregivers that were very familiar with different ways of redirection was really helpful.”