By Lori Lovely
Celebrating its one-year anniversary this month, Reflections Memory Care excels at creating a safe, homelike environment for residents, age 55 and older, afflicted with memory loss, Alzheimer’s, and various types of dementia.
This specialty care facility is “significantly less expensive than a skilled Alzheimer’s unit,” Melanie Wheeler, executive director, points out, “but residents get so much more.” With a staff-to-resident ratio of 1:7, residents benefit from individualized care from staff experienced with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Staff is trained to work on communication barriers and behavioral issues, such as wandering, through preventative approaches and therapies involving art, music, and sensory stimulation.
Nursing is staffed or is on-call around the clock. A house doctor is available as needed to meet residents’ needs. Wheeler says they can bring in hospice for additional support during a person’s final days.
Home, Not Hospital
The goal is to “make it as homelike as possible, not institutional,” Wheeler explains. “We fit into their routine. If they like to eat at night or take a bubble bath at 3 a.m., we accommodate them.” When one resident reverted to her native German language, they made flashcards in order to communicate better with her.
“Individual needs are different,” Wheeler acknowledges, “so we try to be flexible.” She emphasizes that they focus on person-centered care in order to take into consideration the different needs of each resident.
Every detail is well thought-out. An abundance of skylights admit natural light, which helps with mood and the disease. Companionship of the non-human variety is available, thanks to house-cat Mia, two saltwater aquariums and dog visits. A pastor regularly visits for spiritual guidance and comfort.
The facility is activity-oriented. “It’s a social model, not just a medical model,” Wheeler explains. An activity calendar includes a purposely repetitive daily structure from eight to eight that begins with exercise, coffee and current events to ensure continuity and familiarity. Building on that, Wheeler says the staff looks at each resident’s past occupation to find old, familiar tasks for them to do. For example, a former farmer waters seedlings and a former homemaker folds towels and washes dishes.
A large open area lends itself to activities. “We don’t want them isolated in their rooms,” Wheeler says. “We like to see them be social and make friends.”
Group activities often involve exercise, which is important for balance, mobility, and mood. It helps reduce boredom. There is a therapy kitchen where residents can clean and help cook meals. The most popular activities center around art, music and religion. “Music is on all the time between activities,” Wheeler indicates. It keeps residents moving and they often sing along.
An activity nook creates a quiet space for doing puzzles, art therapy, and working with building blocks. Two separate areas of the building have circular layouts that enable residents to safely walk.
Families are encouraged to visit and can join in the activities, which helps particularly if the person can’t verbalize, Wheeler explains. “It makes visits easier and more positive [because they’re focusing on something else].”
Reflections also schedules special activities to include family, such as a Mother’s Day tea and the balloon launch for the anniversary.
“Family is key,” Wheeler states. Recognizing that the disease often affects the family more, she schedules a quarterly family support group with an education component to help family members understand the disease. She includes family members in the residents’ quarterly care plan meetings. “We like to develop a plan with family because they provide insight and history we aren’t aware of.”
When Peggy McFeeters’ mother, who lived 1,000 miles away, lost her caregiver, she decided to bring her to Illinois. Having been turned away from some facilities and considering others too grim, she finally discovered Reflections. “We knew when we first met Melanie and her staff that Mom belonged here,” McFeeters recalls. “This was the perfect answer.”
Moving an 83-year-old mid-stage Alzheimer’s patient across the country overwhelmed her, but Wheeler assisted with all aspects of the move and worked with the long-term health care company. “She stuck with us through the long, grueling process,” McFeeters recalls.
Her mother was greeted by a “welcoming and loving staff” and given “a beautiful room that is cozy and has lots of light,” she describes. “Now Mom thinks she is staying in a five-star hotel.”
All meals and snacks are included in the monthly fee. In addition to providing three meals a day, soup and sandwiches are available around the clock. McFeeters reports that her mother likes the food. “The meals are delicious. When Mom is up at 3 a.m. looking for comfort or food, she is allowed to have the freedom of choice as if at home.”
That aspect of care and attention is a comfort to her. McFeeters expresses gratitude that the staff is well-trained and knows how to deal with the memory issues her mother is experiencing. “I see no arguing or raised voices,” she elaborates. “I see loving friends who always engage with the residents and often give hugs and comfort. It is not easy with the continued questioning of an Alzheimer’s patient or wandering issues, but I feel they handle the care well.”
She’s also pleased with the support Reflections provides her family. “Never have I felt it was an imposition when I called just to see how Mom was doing. Reflections has always been there to support us and comfort us,” she says.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have the opportunity to spend time with my mom here in Illinois and see her on a regular basis,” McFeeters continues. She takes part in activities at Reflections and says she enjoys moments with her mother, while working on picture puzzles or just sitting with the other residents and families, who have become like family.
As the disease progresses, the staff at Reflections incorporates a program of sensory stimulation to help residents maintain as high a level of functioning as possible. Sensory Stimulation is a fairly new approach that helps people with dementia control uncomfortable feelings by stimulating one or more of the five senses. Research has proven that a person with dementia will react positively when certain activities are performed.
“We try to reach all five senses,” Wheeler says. For example, they can stimulate touch and smell with the use of body lotion.
A sensory room is used for cases of severe agitation or behavioral issues. Incorporating calming scents, music and video, aromatherapy, tactile objects, and colorful lighting, this type of therapy redirects negative behaviors, improves mood, triggers memories, and decreases negative thoughts.
Building on success for the future
As one of four locations in Illinois, Reflections’ first year was successful; with 44 admissions, the facility is nearly at maximum capacity. But they aren’t resting on their laurels, even as they celebrate their first anniversary.
Because the facility was new, it had no outdoor area for residents last summer. Wheeler expects that to change. “We want more outdoor activities such as gardening, yard games and a clothesline.”
In the meantime, Reflections will continue to serve its residents. “Our goal is to keep them for life,” Wheeler says, “and to provide a warm, comfortable home for them. We are happy to help the community.”
For more information, contact: Reflections/Washington, 1280 Independence Ct., Washington, IL 61571. Phone 309-508-7200 or visit online: reflectionsmemorycare.net