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Harness the MDS for dementia care

March 7, 2016
by Judi Kulus, MSN, RN, NHA, RAC-MT
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Judi Kulus, MSN, RN, NHA, RAC-MT

Mr. J, an Alzheimer's resident in the nursing home's memory care unit, needs assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). As his dementia has progressed, it has become difficult for the nurse aides to assist him. He is gradually becoming more incontinent, has angry outbursts and wanders into other residents' rooms. Showering is a battle. The nursing assistants want to meet his needs, but it is not easy.

Unfortunately, dementia care service is complex and includes pressure to comply with federal regulations. In the interpretive guidelines for care of residents with dementia, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services instructs surveyors to determine whether the facility staff are using the care plan to provide the resident with the necessary care and services, are evaluating the resident's outcomes and changing the interventions as needed. The guidelines state: "This should be done in accordance with the resident's customary daily routine." This survey process hones in on the need for facility leaders to foster a strong care delivery system.

Mr. J's customary daily routine is changing as his Alzheimer's disease progresses. This makes meeting his needs, which can change from shift to shift, and complying with ongoing regulations challenging.

One of the tools available to assist facility staff with meeting Mr. J's needs while complying with regulations is the federally mandated minimum data set (MDS). The MDS involves a skilled nurse capturing the resident's ADLs (in section G), using the care area assessment (CAA) process to conduct a critical analysis of Mr. J's ADL care needs and developing a care plan. The MDS process is designed to help facility staff assess and address a resident's changing needs as they occur.

Identifying the Alzheimer's disease stage

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 48 percent of residents in nursing homes have Alzheimer's disease. The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research describes the mental and physical manifestations of the seven stages of Alzheimer's as follows:

Stage 1: Normal. Free from any behavioral or mood changes.

Stage 2: Normal-aged forgetfulness. Subjective complaints of cognitive and/or functional difficulties (e.g., not remembering names as well as before).

Stage 3: Mild cognitive impairment. Very subtle memory problems, usually only detected by close friends and loved ones.

Stage 4: Mild Alzheimer's disease. Decreased ability to manage complex ADLs such as finances, preparing meals for guests, or paying bills.

Stage 5: Moderate Alzheimer's disease. Independent community living becomes difficult. The resident may choose the wrong clothes for the weather or not change clothes for days. The resident may recall important information on some occasions but not others.

Stage 6: Moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease (stages 6a–6e). At this stage, the resident needs help to select and put on clothing correctly (6a), loses the ability to bathe without assistance (6b), needs help in the bathroom (6c), becomes bladder incontinent (6d) and develops bowel incontinence (6e). A sign that this stage is coming to an end is stuttering, using meaningless words and turning inward (reduced speech).

Stage 7: Severe Alzheimer's disease (stages 7a–7f). In this final phase, the resident needs continuous care with ADLs. This resident may use no more than six intelligible words (7a). Without good care, the resident loses the ability to walk (7c) and may later need the support of positioning devices in order to sit (7d). Finally, the resident will be unable to hold up his or her head (7f).

Often, residents in memory care units are in the later stages of the disease process (moderate to severe). But with facilities being used by greater numbers of short-term rehabilitation residents and short-term early Alzheimer's residents (as respite care), nursing facility staff are treating residents at all stages of the disease. The MDS assessment process is one constant for all nursing home residents, whether for short-term rehab or long-term memory care.

Using the MDS process

Accurate completion of the MDS can help staff identify a resident's current level of deficits and needed support, at all stages in the disease. Consider Mr. J’s need for toileting assistance (6a) and his development of bladder incontinence (6d) and bowel incontinence (6e). The MDS can assist in identifying these stages in section G (item G0110I), section H (for toileting programs and continence assessment), and section E (for behavioral expression).

The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research has aptly identified superb care as making a huge difference in the quality of life for a resident with Alzheimer’s. And superb care requires effective resident-centered care planning.

However, there are pitfalls to effectively capturing Mr. J's ADLs on the MDS. The documentation required for the MDS process often starts with nursing assistant charting. It can be difficult to capture the accurate number of episodes of resident self-performance, staff assistance and incontinence from the charting.