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Just like the old days for assisted-living residents

Memory care facilities help dementia patients live golden years to the fullest

DIXON – Some older gentlemen putter at a workbench. Some older ladies fold brightly colored towels. Another group of seniors plays games and puts together puzzles.

Just like the old days. Well, sort of like the old days.

The activities – designed to engage residents with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other memory issues – are offered in the new memory care wing at LifeHOUSE Liberty Court in Dixon.

Such facilities are not yet the norm in the Sauk Valley.

Many assisted-living facilities and nursing homes have secure doors and alarm systems to ensure residents with memory problems do not wander off premises. They might have an enclosed outdoor courtyard or garden, too.

But dedicated memory care units are on the rise in the area.

“The baby boomers are aging,” said Ann Barlow, executive director of Liberty Court. “Until it affected these younger folks, we didn’t see a need for [such care]. We think, ‘Oh, they’re older; they’re just starting to lose their memory.’ But now that it’s hitting people who are younger, we see a need. We think, ‘Wow, they’re young; they’ve got a lot of life left to live.’”

The new 16-unit facility still is awaiting some final touches, including a state inspection, but it already is nearly at capacity.

Liberty Court employs Montessori-based dementia care to treat its residents with memory ailments. The programming focuses on people’s abilities, rather than their deficits; it enlivens their sense of purpose; and it enhances their self-esteem and fosters their independence, according to the LifeHOUSE website.

Residents participate in meaningful and engaging activities, Barlow said. The activities might seem juvenile, but they really are age- and, more importantly, memory-appropriate, she said.

“With dementia patients, when they start to lose their memory, first in is last out,” Barlow said. “What they remember, what they have retained is from when they were little. What they go back to is their childhood.

“It’s not a dignity issue. It’s just what they remember.”

The Montessori-based offerings at Liberty Court include a series of stations.

At the caregiver station, residents can take care of baby dolls. They can change them, feed them, and swaddle them in blankets. They can read to them or just rock them.

In the laundry room, residents can fold washcloths and towels. In Grandpa’s workshop, residents can use a tape measure, saw and drill (using Black & Decker children’s power tools) to build something.

The memory care programming – which also includes 10 ready-to-use activity baskets complete with instructions – is helping residents not slip deeper into dementia.

“Many of our residents are at the early stages,” Barlow said. “We don’t have people who wander. We don’t have too many with impulsive behaviors. We’ve seen a difference in our further progressed clients. It’s quite inspiring.”

Pinecrest Community in Mount Morris has had a memory care unit – The Terrace – for more than 15 years, and it previously had a unit within its nursing home.

The community is a pioneer in individualized, or what it calls “person-centered” care, said Michelle DeArvil, memory care director at Pinecrest.

“We had residents here at the facility who needed that care that we wanted to provide to them,” she said.

The 28-unit facility is full.

Pinecrest has an activity-focused program for its residents with dementia-related illnesses. Residents participate in discussions about current events, exercise classes, arts and crafts, chapel services, and other structured activities.

“Their everyday lives are activities,” DeArvil said.

Some might argue that such full days could be overwhelming for an older person with memory problems. But they would be wrong.

“We encourage self-initiation,” DeArvil said. “We want them to choose [whether or not to participate]. But you’d be surprised how many people want to be part of the group. Most of our residents … don’t like to spend time alone; they are very social.

“We don’t often hear from our residents that there’s too much going on.”

The structured environment helps residents feel productive and positive about their abilities. It also helps them stay sharp. The goal is not to help them improve their memory, but to help them maintain it. Residents might not be able to remember the date or a name, but they can rattle off the capitals of all 50 states because they learned them through a series of activities.

“We have to step into their reality and exit ours,” DeArvil said. “Reality orientation is not our goal. We can’t get them any better, but we can help them maintain their highest independent level for as long as possible.”

Good Neighbor Care of Sterling is adding a memory care wing that will house 30 people. The assisted living facility just broke ground and expects to open the new unit next spring or summer.

“With the aging of the Baby Boomers, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and dementia-related illnesses is exponentially increasing, and in order to make their golden years as comfortable and safe as possible, we needed to add a community,” said Patricia Cronister, executive director of Good Neighbor Care. 

The new facility will be connected to its main living community by a corridor and will include a memory care garden. It will offer 24-hour nursing care, as well as activities and therapies that will foster independence in its residents.

Resthave Nursing and Retirement Home in Morrison is one of those facilities that does not have a dedicated memory care unit.

The facility has what is called a wander guard system – that is, it has doors that will alarm should a resident try to wander out of the building, said Kristi Christiansen, administrator at Resthave. The facility is in the middle of a three-phase expansion project that will add a 70-bed nursing wing with an enclosed outdoor courtyard that will allow residents to be outside in a secure area, she added.

Resthave still is able to care for many residents with memory ailments. It refers those people it cannot properly care for, however, to facilities with more involved memory care, such as Big Meadows Nursing Home in Savanna or others in Clinton, Iowa.

“We have to determine is this going to be a safe environment for them,” Christiansen said.

Memory care units in the region

Other assisted living facilities and nursing homes in the Sauk Valley that have memory care units include, but are not limited to:

Avonlea Cottage, Sterling

Big Meadows Nursing Home, Savanna

Dixon Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, Dixon

LifeHOUSE Liberty Court, Dixon

The Meadows of Franklin Grove, Franklin Grove

Neighbors Rehabilitation Center, Byron

Pinecrest Community, Mount Morris

Sterling Pavilion, Sterling

Windsor Manor, Morrison

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