Minimum standards for nursing home dementia care approved by Senate

A proposal to create minimum standards for Alzheimer’s and dementia care in Massachusetts nursing homes is one step closer to becoming law.

The state Senate Tuesday unanimously passed legislation that would require the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which regulates nursing homes, to establish minimum standards for facilities with dementia care units.

The House approved the proposal last month.

A loophole in current Massachusetts law allows nursing homes to advertise specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care units, even though their workers may have no training in caring for such residents.

“This legislation will protect some of the most vulnerable of our population,’’ James Wessler, president and chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, said in a statement.


The bill must return to the House and Senate for routine enactment before being sent to the governor.

“The Governor has been a strong supporter of the Alzheimer‘s cause. We are hopeful that he will quickly sign the bill into law,’’ Wessler said.

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states without such requirements. A 2005 federal report noted that 44 states at that time had requirements governing training, staffing, security, and other areas for facilities that provided specialized dementia care.

The Massachusetts legislation would require all licensed nursing homes to provide dementia-specific training for all direct-care workers, activities directors, and supervisors. Supporters said it was important to mandate dementia training for staff at all licensed facilities because more than half of people in nursing homes suffer from dementia, even if they are not living in specialized units.

Additionally, the legislation stipulates that there should be programs in dementia special care units that provide activities geared to people with dementia.

Supporters said that too often nursing homes do not provide appropriate activities for residents with dementia, and that void can exacerbate agitation and wandering, two hallmark challenges with these people.

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