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Peace of Mind

Allison Baker

Allison Baker says the Atrium at Cardinal Drive aims to both give residents a high quality of life and take stress away from their loved ones.

It’s a moment so many families dread — until they come out on the other side.

“There’s a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot of guilt,” said Allison Baker, director of Community Relations at the Atrium at Cardinal Drive in Agawam, about the decision to move a loved one — usually a parent or spouse — into the assisted-living facility, which specializes in memory care.

“Families can feel like they might be giving up on their loved one by moving them to a setting like ours. And I think our challenge is to show that you’re not placing your loved one in a place just to live out the rest of their life. The point of our community is to give them the best quality of life.”

Cathy Ballini, executive director of Mason Wright Senior Living in Springfield, agreed.

“I always tell families, ‘nobody shops for this until they have to shop for this.’ And there’s a lot of guilt involved when you take parents out of their home. But you have to look at the bigger picture of what’s best for them.”

What often precedes that discussion, especially with individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, is large quantities of “caregiver burnout,” Ballini added.

“When one or two people are caring for someone, there comes a time when something is sacrificed or suffers because you’re not providing this level of care. There’s only so much one person can do to keep someone entertained. There’s only so much the television can do.

Cathy Ballini

Cathy Ballini

“That time they have left should be quality time. You’re taking the business end of the relationship and putting that on us so that you can truly enjoy your time with your with your parent, with your brother, with your spouse.”

“Coming here, they’re building friendships and trust with us so their relationship with the parent becomes what it should be,” she went on. “That time they have left should be quality time. You’re taking the business end of the relationship and putting that on us so that you can truly enjoy your time with your with your parent, with your brother, with your spouse.”

But what makes it quality time, and how does memory care differ from traditional assisted living?

Since it opened 26 years ago, the Atrium has featured two buildings with 22 apartments each, both dedicated to a memory-care model.

“We don’t divide residents based on their care level or their cognitive functioning,” Baker said. “With residents with memory loss or cognitive impairment, huge crowds can be overwhelming or overstimulating, so limiting the number of people is better for a resident. That’s why we have two neighborhoods. They have the same amenities — they both have a courtyard, they both have dining rooms, they both have the atrium area, they both have living rooms and sitting-room areas; they’re identical to one another.”

The Atrium aims to provide a level of care often associated with skilled-nursing facilities — such as two-person transfer assistance, feeding assistance, medication administration, and total care with all aspects of daily living — but in a home-like, assisted-living environment, she added. “It’s a little bit different model than most other communities, but the hope is that our residents can remain here in their home through end of life and not have to move to another setting.”

Mason Wright, like many assisted-living residences, has a neighborhood, called Reflections, dedicated to memory care on its third floor. There, “the caregivers build consistency and trust with the same people,” Ballini said. “The caregivers who are helping them out of bed in the morning are doing activities throughout the day and are serving meals to them. The routine is very important.”

That daily routine includes an extensive roster of activities that actively engage the mind. Residents in Reflections are able to join the rest of the Mason Wright community for events like entertainers, baking sessions, and other activities that anyone can enjoy, but also engage in activities exclusive to their neighborhood that are aimed at preserving cognition.

Laura Lovoie

Laura Lovoie

“Some people contact me when they’re almost at the end of their rope and they just need somebody to say, ‘it’s OK. You’ve done a great job, but there needs to be more support around them 24/7, and you need to sleep.’”

At the Atrium, Baker said, “we’re often able to pique new interest with our residents or encourage them to try something that they haven’t done, like our art therapy program, for example. Residents who have never had an interest in art or painting may be willing to try, and we have seen them partake in that and do an amazing job.”

The Atrium infuses music into many activities, she added, from bringing in professional musicians to utilizing the baby grand pianos in both neighborhoods to playing instrumental music during mealtimes.

“In memory care, music is something that resonates with pretty much the entire population, all of our residents. Not necessarily the same song or same genre, but music is something they can relate to, regardless of what stage someone’s at with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or any cognitive impairment.”

 

Helping the Helpers

Laura Lavoie straddles both the world of family caregiving and residential senior-care facilities through her consulting business, Our Dementia Life, which offers assistance to families dealing with the challenges of memory care and workshops and training to assisted-living facilities and other settings.

With the latter, “it’s really focused on relationships between the staff member and the person living with dementia so that they can give them better care,” she explained, adding that facilities are mandated to offer just two hours per year of dementia training, which isn’t nearly enough. “So many people, not only in memory care but in assisted living and independent living, have dementia, and nobody’s taught how to actually work with these people in order to support them and let them be as autonomous as possible and let them feel as empowered as possible, while still asking for help.”

Meanwhile, Lavoie said, “I also deal with families, especially people who have their loved one in their home, who are really struggling with how they can understand what’s happening, what’s going on inside their brain, and how they can communicate better so that they can care for them better.”

Sometimes those conversations lead to a realization that the family simply can’t do it alone. “Some people contact me when they’re almost at the end of their rope and they just need somebody to say, ‘it’s OK. You’ve done a great job, but there needs to be more support around them 24/7, and you need to sleep.’”

Lavoie said she got into this work almost three decades ago. “My grandfather had dementia. He had a brain tumor, and then he developed dementia because of it and lived with us for a couple of years. And I watched my mom care for him 24/7 with zero training, and she did a beautiful job, but I remember the struggles that she had.”

With people living longer and the over-65 population growing, the need for her services is only growing.

“The mindset at many facilities needs to change and grow with it, and we need people to be well-trained to work with these people in order for them to have a really good quality of life,” she told BusinessWest. “Just because you get a dementia diagnosis does not mean you stop living. Some people have dementia for many years, and why do they have to be bad years?”

She emphasized that the crux of her beliefs lies in looking at the person living with dementia and discovering — and cultivating — what they still have, rather than focusing on what has been lost. “There is a mass culture change that has to happen as the Baby Boomers begin to explode into the various realms of dementias, and I hope to be a part of that even more than I am now.”

Baker also wants to cultivate what residents enjoy, which is why residents at the Atrium are encouraged not to spend the majority of their time in their apartments, but rather in the common areas, taking part in activities that range from trivia and conversations about history to physical activities like cornhole or bowling, as well as outings to local restaurants, parks, and community events.

“We’re trying to keep our residents as engaged as possible throughout the day,” she explained, “with the understanding that we know not every single resident enjoys every single activity that we offer, but the idea is to offer such a variety that there’s something that our residents will enjoy.”

 

Being the Problem Solver

Meanwhile, what families enjoy is spending time with their loved ones without the burden of constant caregiving, Baker said.

“I often talk with families and say, ‘our goal is to relieve you of all that caregiver stress.’ We want them to be able to come and visit their loved one and just be their daughter, son, niece, nephew, husband, wife, and not be worried about whether they got their medications on time, did they take a shower, did they get whatever level of personal care that they may need? We want our families to visit their loved ones and let us worry about all of those other pieces.

“Sometimes you can visibly see the stress relieved from somebody,” she went on. “They just look so much more relaxed once their loved one acclimates.”

Ballini said the need for quality memory care is only growing, and most facilities have waiting lists — and, as a result, many people end up in nursing homes before they need to because there’s not enough spots at facilities like Mason Wright that can meet their care needs in a home-like setting. “In this age of medicine, people are living longer, and there aren’t enough beds for people.”

For the families that can access the right care, however, the rewards can be great, especially if they’re burned out on caregiving at home.

“To see someone come in, not knowing what to do with all the stress, walking through, and they’re not sure it’s right for their loved one, but then seeing their loved one a month or two later, it’s so gratifying,” Ballini told BusinessWest. “It’s nice to be the problem solver. You’re taking care of the family as much as the actual resident.”

Lavoie finds her work satisfying as well, both working with families and helping to train facility staff on how to interact with people with dementia, showing them techniques and communication skills that enhance quality of life for everyone involved.

“It’s the best thing in the world. I get these ‘a-ha’ moments all the time, where even really good care workers in facilities that are really dedicated realize they can make this person feel like they can paint again, and they come to you crying, saying, ‘you should have seen her face.’ Or families say, ‘I can’t believe this this is all it took.’ It’s just the most gratifying thing ever, and I’m thrilled to be doing it, and I just want to give more people the opportunity to learn more.”

Senior Planning

Six Indications It Might Be Time for Memory Care

By Arbors Assisted Living

 

Memory care is a special kind of long-term care designed to meet the specific needs of people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia or types of memory problems. Often housed within an assisted-living community, a memory-care program offers a more structured environment that comes with set schedules and routines to create a stress-free lifestyle, safety features to ensure the health of the residents, and programs designed to cultivate cognitive skills.

Five Symptoms of Dementia to Look Out For

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.

One of the most common signs of dementia involves trouble with short-term memory. From forgetting recently learned information to asking for the same information over and over, your aging loved one may be able to remember events that took place years ago, but not what they had for breakfast.

2. Difficulty handling complex tasks.

You might notice a subtle shift in your loved one’s ability to complete normal tasks, such as driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work, or remembering the rules of a favorite game — or when they start having difficulty handling more complex tasks, such as balancing a checkbook.

3. New problems with words in speaking or writing.

Maybe your mom has always been a stellar conversationalist, and you notice that now she may have trouble following or joining a conversation. Or perhaps your dad struggles to find the right word or calls things by the wrong name.

4. Apathy and withdrawal or depression.

Changes in mood can be an indication that your loved one has dementia. Perhaps they avoid being social because of the changes in their brain. They may also have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby, so they may start to withdraw from things they previously enjoyed.

5. Increasing confusion and disorientation.

Someone in the early stages of dementia may often lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time. Confusion may arise as they can no longer remember faces, find the right words, or interact with people normally.

When to see a doctor:

If your aging loved one exhibits several of these signs, consult a doctor. A general practitioner will typically refer you to a neurologist who can examine your loved one’s physical and mental health to determine whether the symptoms result from dementia or another cognitive problem.

One of the goals of a memory-care community is to keep seniors with dementia engaged and active in a safe, home-like environment and to promote the highest quality of life by adapting the staff, environment, and daily routine to the needs of each individual.

Because of this, there is no downside to placing a loved one in a memory-care community too soon. However, there are many drawbacks to waiting too long.

So, how do you know when it’s the right time to consider moving your loved one to a specialized memory care community? The following questions may be helpful when determining if a move to memory care is a good option.

 

1. Is My Loved One Becoming Unsafe in Their Current Home?

As dementia progresses, your loved one will have a harder time functioning independently. Maybe you used to be able to help your mom by writing out a daily to-do list and a schedule of when she should take her medications. But now, she needs reminders to shower and help choosing appropriate clothes for the season.

Bathing, toileting, dressing, and other activities of daily living all come with risks. Safety should always be considered, and if there are any tasks that your loved one cannot perform safely on their own, assistance should be provided.

How often each day you worry about her, check on her, or make a call regarding her safety or whereabouts? If your loved one has fallen, had a driving accident, or suffered an unexplained injury, these are safety signs it’s time to consider moving your loved one to a memory-care community.

 

2. Is the Health of My Loved One or My Health as a Caregiver at Risk?

Dementia will affect your loved one’s ability to remember to take prescribed medications at the right time or the right dosage, which can lead to serious health problems. For example, chronic health conditions such as COPD and heart disease may worsen rapidly if dementia interferes with your loved one’s ability to manage their treatment. You might also notice that your loved one starts to look different. Maybe your dad is losing weight because he forgets to eat or gaining weight because he forgets he’s eaten and eats again.

When you look in a mirror, you might notice that you are starting to look different, too. Caring for someone with dementia is mentally draining and physically exhausting. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can have an impact on your health, relationships, and state of mind, eventually leading to burnout.

Is dementia preventing your loved one from taking care of their health? Are you and your other family members exhausted? It’s important to be honest with yourself about your emotional and physical limits while caregiving. Sometimes placement in a memory-care community is best for both the caregiver and the loved one’s overall health and well-being.

 

3. Are My Loved One’s Care Needs Beyond My Physical Capabilities?

In the later stages of dementia, your loved one may require assistance getting in and out of bed and moving from the bed to a chair. Additionally, dementia physically damages the brain, which can affect your loved one’s personality and behavior.

Wandering, agitation, repetitive speech or actions, paranoia, and sleeplessness may pose many challenges for families and caregivers. However, it’s important to remember that these behaviors are often coping tactics for a person with deteriorating brain function.

Is your petite, 70-year-old mom trying to get your 180-pound dad to the bathroom two or three times each night? Is your dad’s aggression triggered by something — physical discomfort, being in an unfamiliar situation, poor communication — on a regular basis? If continuing to care for your loved one at home puts both of you in danger, that’s a telltale sign that it’s time for memory care.

 

4. Am I Becoming a Stressed, Irritable, and Impatient Caregiver?

Stress arousal is the first sign that you’re not getting the physical and emotional support you need as a caregiver. Maybe you’re frustrated or disappointed over your loved one’s deteriorating condition or lack of progress. It can be hard to accept that the quality of your care and effort have nothing to do with the actual health-related decline or mood of the care recipient. This frustration can lead to caregiver stress.

If you are so overwhelmed by taking care of someone else that you have neglected your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being, it will not be long before you are experiencing caregiver burnout. When you are burned out, it is tough to do anything, let alone look after someone else.

 

5. Am I Neglecting Work Responsibilities, My Family, and Myself?

You might be struggling to maintain a sense of purpose in working so hard to provide care, which leads to neglecting responsibilities, withdrawing socially from friends and family, and having much less energy than you once had.

Family caregivers often have to take time off, either paid or unpaid, while some have to reduce their work hours. Others leave the workforce entirely in order to provide full-time care for a loved one. Additionally, caregivers don’t have as much time to take care of themselves, and they can often feel cut off from the outside world. Social isolation leads to higher levels of both caregiver stress and depression.

“There is no downside to placing a loved one in a memory-care community too soon. However, there are many drawbacks to waiting too long.”

Are you feeling irritable or hopeless, struggling with emotional and physical exhaustion, or getting sick more often? Do you have heightened anxiety or trouble making care decisions? If your loved one’s need for care is wearing you out, it may be time to start considering your memory-care options.

 

6. Would the Structure and Social Interaction at a Memory-care Community Benefit My Loved One?

Somewhere in the middle and late stages of dementia, your loved one will no longer be able to drive, and communication with others will become increasingly difficult. Your loved one may lose track of their thoughts, be unable to follow conversations, and/or have trouble understanding what others are trying to communicate.

Maybe it’s become too challenging to take your mom out to eat, shop, or exercise because her behavior is unpredictable. Or perhaps your dad can no longer drive, so he rarely goes out and is restless and lonely.

Is dementia shrinking your loved one’s world? Memory-care programs are equipped to provide activities and stimulation — including trips and outings — that can keep your loved one engaged and active in a safe, homelike environment.

If you answered yes to any of these questions or if you have reached a point where you feel like you cannot fully meet the needs of a loved one struggling with memory impairment, it is time to start visiting memory-care communities, which offer specialized environments where your loved one can not only live, but even thrive. Plus, knowing that your loved one has trained, 24-hour care can help relieve the caregiving burden and give your family peace of mind.

Business of Aging Special Coverage

Peace of Mind

Ruth’s House

Ruth’s House dedicates its lower-level Garden neighborhood to memory care.

 

The connection between music and memory is a complex and often surprising one. Just ask the families of loved ones with dementia at Ruth’s House, the assisted-living residence on the JGS Lifecare campus in Longmeadow.

“We ask, ‘what sort of music did your loved one enjoy?’ Then we have volunteers come in and build personal playlists,” said Susan Halpern, vice president of Development and Communications at JGS. “It’s amazing to see the reactions — to see someone who’s agitated get less agitated, or someone who had been very quiet come out of their shell because they’re hearing something that’s very familiar to them.”

Mary-Anne Schelb, director of Business Development, has also seen the results of what JGS calls its music and memory program.

“Maybe they’re not much of a talker, and suddenly they’re singing this song. It’s hard to carry on a conversation with them, but when the music comes on, they remember every word. The artistic and creative ability is really the last to go. It’s in there — we just need to know how to pull it out.”

Or, as Halpern put it, “it’s about meeting them where they are.” That’s why residents’ families fill out a long (around eight pages) resident profile upon admission, Schelb added.

“We really want to get to know your mom or dad, and we want to know what they like and don’t like, because then we utilize that.”

“If they can’t stand bingo, we’re not going to try to push bingo. Or if they love hot-air balloons, we can go up to them and ask, ‘hey, do you know we’re showing a hot-air-balloon movie in the movie room?’ You see their face light up — ‘you are? I love hot-air balloons.’ The profile is time-consuming, but we really want to get to know your mom or dad, and we want to know what they like and don’t like, because then we utilize that.”

Meeting residents where they are is especially important for those with early- to mid-stage memory impairments and other dementia-related diseases who live in the Garden at Ruth’s House, a separate, secure neighborhood that caters to individuals with increased cognitive and physical limitations, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, and where staff members are specifically trained to care for individuals in need of memory care.

Sue Halpern (left) and Mary-Anne Schelb

Sue Halpern (left) and Mary-Anne Schelb say incorporating memory care into the entire JGS continuum makes sense with people living longer and dementia becoming more prevalent.

But what some might not know, Schelb said, is that JGS has, over the years, incorporated specific memory-care training across its contimuum of services, from Spectrum Home Health & Hospice Care to Wernick Adult Day Health Care; from the Leavitt Family Jewish Home to the Sosin Center for Rehabilitation.

Why? Because the memory-care population is on the rise as Americans live longer than ever — and early-onset dementia in younger people is ticking up as well. So the model JGS has adopted, of making sure all the points along its continuum of services can handle different levels of dementia, is one increasingly taking hold in the world of senior living and care.

“We were the ones who spearheaded dementia-friendly Longmeadow a few years ago, which was really important to us, to make people aware of the differences of folks that have this higher level of memory loss, because people really didn’t know how to deal with them. They didn’t know what to do, how to act,” Schelb explained. “We wanted to make people aware, so I worked with the senior center, some emergency responders, and we worked with the Alzheimer’s Association and got certified as a dementia-friendly town.”

Similarly, making JGS a dementia-friendly campus was a natural evolution, she noted. “Except for Genesis independent living, every single piece of the campus concentrates on memory care.”

 

Gardening Tools

The Garden gives Ruth’s House an element of security and higher-level care for individuals with dementia, Schelb explained.

“Maybe you start out in traditional assisted living, and as they progress [with memory loss], we could add services to the apartment as long as they’re not a wander risk, and if they do become a wander risk, we’ve got the secure Garden level, which is beautiful inside and out,” she said, noting the waterfall, scenic walkways, and benches out back; the fact that the area is safely fenced in is obscured by the landscaping.

“We just wanted to make it this gorgeous, park-like environment. A lot of people like to walk, and and here they can be outside, and it gives them that sense of freedom.”

In the Leavitt skilled-nursing facility, two nursing neighborhoods are dedicated to caring for people with memory impairments, Halpern explained, while staff of the other JGS programs, like Wernick and Sosin, are trained in working with people with memory loss as well.

“As a campus, we’re caring for elders, and it sort of goes hand in hand that, as people get older, they’re suffering memory loss,” she told BusinessWest. “So we take the care of people with dementia, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease as a central care delivery that we train our staff on during orientation.”

That orientation, when staff are taught how to engage with people with dementia, is followed by annual reviews and specific skills-training events during the year, she added, noting that JGS will be using grant funds to expand that skills training.

Ruth’s House’s memory-care residents

Ruth’s House’s memory-care residents take part in both indoor and outdoor activities intended to engage their minds.

“We’re a person-centered campus, and we deal with memory impairment across our entire campus the same way,” Halpern added. “You take the approach that you’re meeting the person where they are.”

Added Schelb, “we’re finding a lot more people suffering from memory loss at earlier ages. Early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s is something very real that a lot of people are experiencing, so we need to pivot and shift to make sure we can care for our folks here on the campus in any way, shape, or form.

“We’ve even got our home health dealing with folks with memory loss, or even end-stage Alzheimer’s in hospice,” she went on. “Unfortunately, we have seen more of it, across the board; I think healthcare in general has seen a lot more. And we want to be able to give our residents as fulfilled a life as possible.”

“We just wanted to make it this gorgeous, park-like environment. A lot of people like to walk, and and here they can be outside, and it gives them that sense of freedom.”

Many times, Halpern said, a senior-living facility is one of the first places family members contact when they suspect a memory issue.

“People reach out to us when they need help. And when do families need help? Often, it’s when they have a loved one who’s suffering from dementia and memory impairment, and they’ve tried to work with them at home. So we’ll work with them at home with our Spectrum Home Health Care, but then it can get to a point where you just can’t handle it. Maybe it’s the incontinence, maybe it’s the wandering and the risk of that, but we find that families are reaching out to us when they’re willing to give up their loved one. And it is a tough decision to place your loved one in a care setting.”

Even people with dementia who are able to live at home with family members can benefit from Wernick’s day programs, Halpern added.

“We were one of the first adult day health centers in Western Mass., back in the ’70s. We get a lot of people needing adult day care who have memory impairment and forgetfulness, and they are benefiting from being in social settings — and we offer social settings, be it in adult day care or assisted living, that helps people not feel isolated, and we help give them experiences that are failure-free.”

 

High-tech, Human Touch

Some of those experiences at Ruth’s House take place in a sensory room that allows residents to have experiences that reduce agitation and frustration, especially late in the day, a phenomenon known as sundowning.

“Some don’t want to be touched, or don’t like bright lights or loud sounds. They react differently to activities,” Schelb said, explaining that the sensory room is softly lit, soothing music often plays, and the room incorporates tactile technology, on touchscreens and activity panels, that stimulates in a calmer way.

“We downplay the aggravation for them. We teach staff how to recognize it and what to do, and it’s part of their care plan. We know what activities they like. And any new technology they have out there, we try to get and incorporate into our care plans and train staff to utilize them properly.”

Beyond its own programs, Ruth’s House works with families on their own communication, Schelb said.

“Sometimes we find families don’t know how to interact with their loved ones, causing frustrations. There’s a level of resentment because it really engulfs their whole life. We say, ‘let us help you; let us be the caregiver, and you go back to being the son or daughter or husband or wife.’ It’s really hard to do both.”

By focusing on the relationship and not the caregiving, families learn to move past the frustrations of life with Alzheimer’s or dementia, especially during the early stages when they’re just getting acclimated to the situation.

“They can get upset with mom or dad: ‘I just told you that; how do you not remember that?’ But they’re not purposefully forgetting; this is just part of the disease,” Schelb said, so family education and support groups are crucial — as is understanding when it’s time to seek the appropriate level of help. “Sometimes they can stay at home, and we can help. But sometimes they realize it’s just too much, and they realize they have options on our campus.”

It’s a campus that embraces not only person-centered care, Halpern said, but — at least in the Sosin Center — the ‘green house’ model of small-house care, which focuses on three goals: an authentic, home-like setting; meaningful life; and empowered staff.

“We recognize the environment is important to peoples’ well-being and how they feel,” she noted, adding that a second phase of what’s been called Project Transformation will bring the green-house model of renovations to the Leavitt Jewish Family Home as well — arguably a more important site for it, since it’s a long-term facility where residents will live the rest of their lives.

In short, Halpern said, JGS continues to look at ways to meet residents where they are.

“That affects how we care for people with dementia as well,” she added. “It’s part of our philosophy.”

Business of Aging

Peace of Mind

By Mark Morris

 

Heidi Cornwell says families looking for a senior-living community should consider its continuum of care.

Heidi Cornwell says families looking for a senior-living community should consider its continuum of care.

Between now and 2030, 10,000 Americans each day, on average, will reach age 65. That type of growth affects all the industries that serve the senior population — and, not surprisingly, senior living is one industry paying close attention to this trend.

Kimball Farms Life Care provides independent and assisted living as well as dedicated memory-care services. In 2020, the Lenox facility received more inquiries about its residential offering than in any year prior. Heidi Cornwell, marketing and sales director for Kimball Farms, said potential residents are doing more online research to educate themselves about senior community living.

“Many people are ‘shopping around’ earlier because they saw their own parents ill-prepared for this part of their life journey,” Cornwell said. She also noted that, as people live longer, they are moving into senior at a later age.

As a continuing-care retirement community (CCRC), Kimball Farms offers increasing levels of care for those who need it. Residents can easily move from independent living to assisted living, giving the individual and their families greater peace of mind.

For residents who develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, Kimball Farms offers memory-care services through its Life Enrichment Program (LEP). Cornwell explained that the program is centered around a philosophy know as habilitation, which increasingly emphasizes a person’s remaining skills instead of the skills they have lost.

For example, if a sandwich is placed in front of a person with dementia, they may not be able to process what to do with it. “However, if someone sits across from them with a sandwich, picks it up, and takes a bite, that is the only queuing they need to understand what to do,” Cornwell said, adding that they can then enjoy their lunch without any further assistance.

“We are so grateful to our residents and their families because they worked with us to find creative and innovative ways to stay engaged and informed, while at the same time keeping everyone healthy.”

Singing is another good example of emphasizing a remaining skill. “The individual may not sing along to a song by themselves, but if an activities person or nurse sings with them, they can sing with pride and remember every word.”

The LEP puts its focus on maximizing quality of life for each resident. Regular routines and programs built around the interests of the individual keep them busy all day and into the evening. As a result, the residents thrive, Cornwell said, noting that the stimulation helps residents with dementia maintain the abilities they still have for as long as possible.

“We place no expectations on them, but encourage them to be the best person they can be,” she said. “We celebrate the good days, bolster self-esteem, and we treat them with the utmost dignity and respect.”

 

Safe Spaces

As research on dementia has evolved, caregivers have increased their understanding on how to manage the condition. Embracing the skills that remain for those with dementia can encourage feelings of acceptance and personal success. That’s important, Cornwell said, because, even though the disease can have an effect on a person’s ability to communicate or recall recent events, they still have a sense of the quality of life they desire.

Or, as she put it, “although they may no longer be able to dance, they still enjoy the music.”

Kimball Farms social worker Jackie Trippico leads what is known as Reminisce Group. This weekly activity begins with staff presenting a specific topic and asking residents to recall a significant memory related to that theme. Cornwell said one popular reminiscence involved talking about a trip to an ice-cream parlor.

Providing comfortable spaces is also part of the program. Kimball Farms’ memory-care neighborhood is a secure, self-contained community. Private apartments are modeled after a typical home with an open floor plan, while residents also have access to a secure outdoor courtyard so they can garden, see visitors, or take part in other activities. The staff ratio is higher than traditional assisted living, and they have all been trained in specialized dementia care.

When COVID-19 hit last year, families could no longer make in-person visits to residents in LEP. Cornwell said the activities professionals and nursing team quickly adapted to using tablets to arrange virtual visits or phone calls so families could stay informed on the care and well-being of their loved ones. Celebrating special occasions simply became virtual events.

“Zoom birthday and anniversary parties, as well as Skype holiday festivities, became our new normal,” she explained.

As COVID vaccine levels rise, Kimball Farms is able to welcome families to visit by appointment. Cornwell reported that residents and their families have been thrilled to resume the personal visits.

“We are so grateful to our residents and their families because they worked with us to find creative and innovative ways to stay engaged and informed, while at the same time keeping everyone healthy.”

As more Americans reach their senior years and live longer than previous generations, the demand for memory-care facilities to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease will continue to increase.

According to Seniors Housing Business magazine, from 2013 through 2018 (the latest figures available), the number of new memory-care units increased by 55%.

Cornwell advises those who are looking at senior-living options to consider the continuum of care a community offers. Healthy seniors who may choose independent living in senior housing to downsize from their homes need to think about future needs as well, she said.

“The community they choose should be a place that will provide them with the best quality of life, for the rest of their life, with increasing levels of care when and if they need it.”