Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Memory Care: Welcome to the Neighborhood

One of the hardest decisions a caregiver will ever have to make is when to seek professional care for a loved one. The next big decision is where to find that care and what options are available. The only way to decide which option is best for you is to tour the available facilities and get a feel for how well your loved one will fit into the environment.

I remember taking those tours. It was pretty much like interviewing for a job I didn’t want. It was much easier to see what was wrong rather than what was right. Even places that had good recommendations didn’t fare well under my jaded examination.

When I found places I thought might be acceptable, I put Jim on a waiting list. In 1999, Sylvia G. Thompson Residential Center was considering a new concept in Alzheimer’s care based on small groups of residents in a homelike setting. I looked at the plans and put Jim on that waiting list too. It so happened that the timing wasn’t right for the proposed unit at Sylvia G. Thompson and their project would be on hold for another decade.

Thursday night I went to an open house for the Memory Care unit at Sylvia G. Thompson Residence Center and the finished product is stunning. An atrium, complete with a sky-lights in a high ceiling, is the centerpiece of the Memory Care wing. The indoor gardens have water features and an abundance of plants that include an orange tree, a pea bush, and lush greenery to give the area an outdoor feeling. The walking track eclipses the atrium and is designed to give a wandering resident plenty of room to stretch his or her legs.

Wicker furniture is arranged in a separate sun porch area. On the night of the open house the view from the large windows looked like a scene from a winter wonderland.

Between the gardens comfortable arm chairs await those who just want to sit and relax. Tables are set up with games—checkers, dominos, and a jigsaw puzzle. The four corners are staked out as separate neighborhoods. Five residents will have their homes in each neighborhood. These five neighbors will live in rooms surrounding their living area, kitchen and dining room. The table seats six because a caregiver will be assigned to each neighborhood and will eat with the residents.

The common areas are decorated with photography by Faith Bemiss, a local artist. Her beautiful photographs serve practical function by helping residents find their rooms. A resident might live in the pelican room—a small framed photograph of pelicans is beside the door and a larger pelican picture decorates the room. Each of the twenty rooms has a different photographical theme.

We may not be able to find a home with all the features of Memory Care at Sylvia G. Thompson, but we can choose a home that meets our loved ones needs at the time. As the disease progresses, those needs may change. In our case, Jim was in the first home for less than a year. Then, we found a long-term care facility in our hometown which made it easier for me to see him each day. We decorated Jim’s room with NASCAR and Kansas City Chief’s posters and bedspreads to reflect his interests. Jim lived at the second home for a little over four years until his death in 2005.

Jim was in an Alzheimer’s unit at both facilities. Both of these units became his home and his neighborhood while he was living there. I remember one stay in the hospital, Jim told me he wanted to “go home.” Since Jim was mostly silent, I knew he was good and tired of being in an unfamiliar place. When he was dismissed I took him back to the Alzheimer’s unit. He was satisfied to be on familiar turf, and to be back in his own neighborhood.

Copyright © Jan. 2011, L. S. Fisher

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