Persons with dementia have a very unique journey. We at The Green House at Calvary wish to walk along side the elder and their family as they journey through the many stages of memory loss.
It’s 11:00AM on a beautiful Tuesday morning. The elders at The Green House have just finished up their morning chair exercise and are relaxing by the fireplace as the caritas begin preparations for a lunch of fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy and squash casserole. The pleasant smells are radiating through the home. I can see one of the elders walking around the living area as she normally does checking out the plants. As the Guide, I’m busy in the office completing my usual weekly tasks anticipating lunch when our door bell rings. I open the door and am greeted by a lovely lady who seems to be distraught. I invite her in, welcome her to our home and quickly introduce myself. She explains that she is the only daughter of a mother with Alzheimer’s whom she is taking care of in her home. She loves her mother but is exhausted. She also has two school children who are very active. She is not getting any sleep at night due to her mother getting up all night long, and during the day she is busy with her children’s extra curricular activities. She needs some relief. She was referred to us by a friend and needs more information.
I sit for a moment and talk to her specifically about her mother and ask questions.
Is she mobile?
Does she have any health conditions?
Who is her primary physician and is that physician agreeable to having her placed in a personal care home?
What is a typical day like for her mother?
Does she verbally communicate?
How does she handle change?
Is she continent?
Does she eat well?
What special services does she need?
What is her background?
After establishing a good vision of her mother, I begin showing our home and the services we provide. First, I explain the layout of the building and how it benefits those elders with memory impairment. We walk into the common hearth area with open kitchen and dining room. I show her that the elder’s rooms are surrounding this area. They can open their doors and walk straight out into a comfortable setting. They can also have their privacy by closing the door to their room and having their quiet time. The common area has several seating options around a fireplace. Some elders enjoy taking a nap in this area, while others find it to be the social gathering spot. You are part of the house in this area. You can see everything that’s going on, both inside and out. Each side of the room is lined with windows. In the back, there is a gated outdoor area with covered walkway for those elders who enjoy a bit of fresh air and sunshine. We find that a person with dementia can’t handle too much stimulation. A trip outside sometimes makes the anxiety go away.
I direct her attention to the kitchen where the caritas are busy preparing lunch. We can smell wonderful aromas circulating passed us. I explain that the design is intentional so that we can encourage a healthy appetite. All meals are prepared right here by our caritas. They are all ServSafe certified, which means that they have completed the training for safe food preparation. All restaurants have to have a ServSafe manager on duty. We value the safety of our elders and take the proper steps to ensure it. We have a weekly menu posted; however, we aim to please and have alternates available. We can accommodate a diabetic diet as well as a vegetarian diet. The ladies in the kitchen are introduced. They give their friendly hellos, wash their hands, and come to share a hug. They inquire about her mother and offer tidbits on how she would fit right in with our home. They even invite her for lunch one day to meet her. One of the caritas explains that meal times are just like grandma’s house. It’s a family environment. The caritas are there to model eating and even prompt when necessary since Alzheimer’s Disease occassional robs the mind of what objects are for.
I direct the attention to the dining table, one long table. We all gather at this table for every meal. All ten elders, the caritas, family members and any one else who happens by at mealtime is invited to share our meal. We treasure meal time and make it a special convivium moment – a time to talk and share stories while pleasant music is serenading us. I explain that breakfast is as you want it. Every elder has a different morning routine. We feel very strongly about honoring each elder’s preferences. Some elders enjoy the variety breakfast menu at 8:00 every morning. Others don’t want to be bothered until 9:00, and they want their oatmeal and toast every day. Our lunch meal is served at 12:30 PM, and our evening meal is served at 5:30 PM
I begin to discuss the activities of the home. We consider each step in preparing for the day an act of engagement. It is a time when the caritas and the elder really connect while accomplishing an important task. We encourage the elders to do all the steps that they can while giving support when needed. A monthly activity calendar is put into place by our Activity Coordinator for the month (each staff rotate in this position every 3 months). This calendar consists of things like balloon volleyball, devotions, sing-a-longs, crafts and the list goes on. We gather pages of information on each elder when they join our family. Our goal is to incorporate some activity that would interest each elder into the monthly calendar. We are also very flexible with the calendar. We understand that some days are not the best days. Activities may be substituted for more appropriate ones, or perhaps a family with a newborn arrives for a visit and shares the precious bundle with all of the elders. We learn to adapt and “go with the flow” of the home.
Next, I ask one of the nearby elders if I can show her room to our guest. She agrees so we enter. The room is furnished with the belongings of the elder who lives here. We see her watercolor portraits of her three girls hanging above her antique bed. Her green recliner sits in the corner next to lamp and is draped in her favorite throw. We want each elder’s room to feel comfortable and be familiar. Each bedroom has its own heating and cooling unit, double windows, a small closet, cable hook-up and its own private bathroom. Pull cords are available to alert staff if a need arises. Just outside each bedroom is a shadow box filled with each elder’s treasures. This particular lady displays her badge from working over fifty years at the school lunchroom, a photo of her great granddaughter and wedding picture taken with her husband. We often use the items in the shadow box to bring the elder back to a place of happiness and reminisce.
The other areas left to explore are the rooms off of the service hallway. My favorite room is the spa. It houses a spa tub. Some elders suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease have a difficult time with showers and water in general. A nice tub bath can often create a pleasant bathing experience. This room also doubles as our beauty shop. We have a beautician who comes once a week to provide her services; however, family and caritas use this room as well to doll up their family members. The service hall also has a staff restroom, chemical closet, medication closet and laundry room. It also serves as the staff communication area with bulletin boards and clipboards.
Our visit together ends with us in the living area watching as the caritas begin assisting the elders to the dining table for lunch. A few of them are given aprons to wear so as not to soil their clothes. After all are seated, one of the elders begins the blessing of the food. I offer our visitor a packet along with my contact information. I let her know to please call back if she has any questions. I wish her the best in finding the right fit for her mother. We exchange a hug. She smiles. A connection was made.
At The Green House at Calvary Personal Memory Care Home, we strive to nuture relationships will all involved – the elder, the family, the staff, the visitors. We understand dementia and know that it affects each person differently. Knowing each person is the key to success.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is the progressive decline in cognitive function due to damage or disease in the brain beyond what might be expected from normal aging. Particularly affected areas may be memory, attention, language and problem solving. In the later stages of the condition, affected persons may be disoriented to time, place and person. Early symptoms of dementia often consist of changes in personality or in behavior. Dementia can affect language, comprehension, motor skills, short-term memory, ability to identify commonly used items, reaction time, personality traits, and executive functioning. Even without signs of general intellectual decline, delusions are common in dementia.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive cognitive deterioration together with declining activities of daily living and neurosychiatric symptoms or behavioral changes. It is the most common type of dementia. The most striking early symptom is loss of short term memory which usually manifests as minor forgetfulness that becomes steadily more pronounced with illness progression, with relative preservation of older memories. As the disorder progresses, cognitive impairment extends to the domains of language, skilled movements, recognition and those functions (such as decision-making and planning).
Imagine a place where Elders can gather around a hearth and share stories while the scent of baking drifts throughout the house. Perhaps some swap cooking tips and favorite recipes in the kitchen with the staff. Others may prefer to sit in the garden and enjoy the sunset. The Green House makes this vision a reality.