Dementia Special Care Units (DSCUs)

There is nothing easy about watching a loved-one experience memory loss. When your loved- one has dementia, ensuring that his/her needs are met and that he/she is comfortable can be a difficult process. When looking at a nursing home for a loved one with dementia, making sure that he/she is receiving much needed specialized attention is important. That is where Dementia Special Care Units (DSCUs) come in.

DSCUs provide specialized care to nursing home residents with dementia through a combination of additional and on-going dementia care training, expanded activities, and a safe and comfortable physical environment (e.g. special lighting and floor coverings to minimize confusion, safe/supervised access to the outdoors, etc.).

Not every nursing home in Massachusetts has a DSCU, since compliance with DSCU law is not mandatory. DSCUs must be certified every year by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), so finding out if a nursing home has one is as simple as just asking. While DSCUs have an official disclosure form that is posted in the facility, here are a few questions you can ask a facility:

  • What kinds of activities are there for residents with dementia?
  • What is included in the training of care providers who work with dementia residents?
  • Can you describe or show me the dementia unit and tell me about how its physical conditions help the residents?
  • Are there reasons why a resident would be moved out of the DSCU? What are those?  What’s the process?

Important Note: DSCU law also requires additional and on-going dementia care training for direct caregivers in all Massachusetts nursing homes, not only for DSCUs.

Some Background on DSCUs

In 2012, Massachusetts passed a law that closed a loophole addressing the nursing home care of those with dementia. Previously, nursing homes advertised themselves as having DSCUs, without specific training for caregivers or other special conditions. Now to be able to say that a facility has a DSCU, nursing homes must meet specific requirements for dementia care training, expanded activities, and physical plant standards.