Specialized Memory Care for Those with Alzheimer's and Dementia

Providing safety and security at specialized memory care facilities for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia



illustration by brittany murphy

Your elderly mom baked blue ribbon-winning pies, but now she can’t remember a recipe or even how to use her stove.

Perhaps your dad forgets to pay bills and the way to the corner grocery store.

A favorite uncle, always nattily attired and impeccably groomed, can’t recall how to bathe or dress himself.

Possibly your wife, the retired university professor, struggles to articulate her thoughts and has difficulty learning new things.

Everyone aged 55-plus has “senior moments” or abbreviated memory lapses, but those are some of the symptoms of serious, significant and progressive cognitive impairment.

They are also red flags that a memory care residence may now be the best place for a loved one.

“When examples like these impact a person’s daily life and the ability to function, and especially when it jeopardizes their safety, it is time to make this very difficult decision,” says Chuck Crush, the executive director of The Birches at Concord, which is a Benchmark property and New Hampshire’s first assisted living community dedicated exclusively to residents with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of memory impairment caused by stroke, brain cancer or another debilitating disease.

An Alzheimer’s Association 2014 study reported that there are five million Americans aged 65 and older afflicted with the disease. Although people are living longer all across the country, New Hampshire has the distinction of having one of the nation’s fastest-aging populations, according to the Aging Resource Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

 “The numbers of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia are definitely increasing, and I am comfortable saying this, they are increasing at exponential levels in New Hampshire as well as nationally. There is definitely a need for memory care services in this state, whether it’s a day program, care in the home or in a community like ours,” says Crush, who has been in the health care services sector for more than 20 years.

Throughout the state, there are units treating people with cognitive impairment included on the property of licensed assisted living facilities and nursing homes, and then there are properties that are memory care residences exclusively. The difference is key.

Memory care residences are specifically designed to enrich the residents’ quality of life while giving them a sense of safety and security and reducing their stress levels in a home-like atmosphere. The décor is universally cheerful and colorful, there is an abundance of natural and ambient light, and the community is built to accommodate residents with “wandering” behavior.

"When it jeopardizes their safety, it’s time to make this very difficult decision."

“There are no floors with dead-ends and no stop-gaps here,” says Angela Pelletier, the senior executive director of Maryland-based WoodBine Senior Living Communities, the parent company of the Sanctuary at Rye, which was the Seacoast’s first exclusive memory care residence. “We encourage our residents to decorate their private rooms or suites with favorite furnishings and belongings from home.”

Crush says, “Our elements of design and décor are essential, down to the smallest detail. Even the plates in our dining room are red, which has been proven to stimulate appetite. The toilet seats are black on a white bowl to make it easier for people to recognize from a cognitive standpoint what the toilet is for.”

Although the environment is an integral component, it is the quality of the all-inclusive care that sets this type of facility apart.

“All we do is memory care. One benefit of this exclusivity is that all of our staff, whether a nurse, nursing assistant, housekeeper, cook or dietary aid, are trained in memory care or dementia care. They have an appreciation of residents with cognitive impairment. Another benefit is from a programming standpoint. All of our activities are geared to folks with various levels of memory impairment,” says Crush.

The Birches at Concord, which has 50 private rooms, is home to quite a few Harvard graduates and a Harvard alumni day celebration is on the jam-packed activities calendar. Staff members at The Sanctuary at Rye, and at the other residences, undertake a full discovery of who each resident was prior to the onset of the diseases, complete with their likes and dislikes, hobbies and interests, and their former careers and accomplishments.

“We honor and respect that and we instill in our residents and families, as well as our staff, that just because someone has cognitive impairment or memory issues, it does not mean that their life is over or their quality of life is over. That is really important,” Crush says.

Memory care residences, many of which offer on-site beauty salons, occupational, speech and physical and geriatric therapists and other services along with 24-hour medical care, provide necessary socialization, which is an antidote to isolation and depression.

But they do come with a price tag.

“This is not an inexpensive proposition. It is an investment. It’s focused on quality of life. If mom wants a cheeseburger at two o’clock in the afternoon, we’ll make a cheeseburger for her at two in the afternoon,” says Crush, who added that costs at The Birches are within the national average.

“This is a need-based decision versus a luxury-based decision,” says Pelletier, who added Spring Village at Wolfeboro is the newest of WoodBine’s memory care residences in New Hampshire that also include Forest View in Meredith.

“Our monthly prices at Forest View and The Sanctuary range from $3,700 to $7,200. But they are all-inclusive and, when you compare them to a nursing home that can cost $10,000 to $12,000 per month, memory care is not that expensive.”

Professional and compassionate care for a loved one? Priceless.

“Oftentimes the families have tried to take care of their loved one at home and they come to us exhausted, drained and running out of options. We help them find the option,” Crush says.

“What we are here for is to take very good care of our residents,” says Pelletier. “It is our number one priority to hire only staff with serving hearts.” 


Adult Day Centers

Seniors who were independent and caregivers for others can find it tough to accept that now they need help. But when memory impairment sets in and being home alone isn’t an option, adult day centers can be the solution.

“It’s a real win-win for the participant and for the caregiver, who can go to work, run errands and have a respite knowing that their loved one is in healthy hands that are mindful and they are enjoying their day,” says Paul Faist, president of Adult Day Services of New Hampshire.

The centers provide a wealth of benefits, including medical monitoring, mental stimulation, fun activities, nutritious meals and snacks, and socialization and peer support.
An added bonus is that people remain in their homes and out of a residential facility or hospital. But everyone needs to be on the same page.

“The family has to be supportive and strong because the days are just that, days. The family needs to be able to care for the loved one on nights, weekends and the few holidays we’re not open,” says Faist, who has been director of Silverthorne Adult Day Center in Salem since 1993.

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