It’s never too late: Tempe center keeps minds, bodies engaged

Tom Ballard punches a code into a key pad at the entrance to the memory care center at Westchester Senior Living in Tempe.

Former race-car driver Woody operates a remote control car at Westchester Senior Living as part of the cognitive engagement activities the center offers its memory-care residents.

By Joyce Coronel

Tom Ballard punches a code into a key pad at the entrance to the memory care center at Westchester Senior Living in Tempe. He pushes the door open and steps through, greeting residents and employees.

“We came at the 2 p.m. shift change,” Ballard said as he observed caregivers engaged in a discussion. Nearby, Louise Hilton stacked plastic cups, forming a pyramid. The activities assistant makes it her mission to discover which activities residents enjoy most. Woody, dressed in bright orange top, likes to shoot the foam “bullets” loaded into a Nerf gun she places in his gnarled hands. After that, it’s a turn operating the remote-control car, sending it in circles around the meeting area. Woody was once a race car driver.

“I think it’s very important for them to have these activities,” Hilton said as she readied the next enterprise. Smoothies for the residents stood on a nearby table. “What’s the point of sitting in your room doing nothing?”

Ballard emphasized the significance of engaging residents in activities.

“It’s very important that they receive stimulation to help them stay cognitively engaged in their environment because the alternative is loneliness, boredom and helplessness which we consider to be plagues.”

While Hilton had some of the residents involved in activities, two women, further advanced in the memory-loss continuum, sat quietly in wheelchairs several feet away. What about them?

“The fact that they are here and semi-engaged—it’s still beneficial for them because they are being stimulated. They are not just lying in bed,” Ballard said.

“They are observing activities and seeing people. They don’t know who these people are, but they just know that there are other people around them and that makes them feel safe and secure. They don’t feel abandoned.”

“I feel I’ve done my job when I go home at night and I can tell that they have enjoyed themselves, that they did something fun,” Hilton said. “I work really hard on the internet trying to find new things for them to do.”

One of those things is the “It’s Never Too Late” program known as IN2L that offers hundreds of interactive games, quizzes and activities through technology. Hilton also plans Bingo games, monthly birthday parties and holiday celebrations. Some residents have loved ones who escort them to movies or restaurants.

“Louise finds out which activities will make a resident come out of their rooms to participate,” Ballard said. “One resident loves doing artistic activities so Louise sets up art classes for her. Another resident enjoys watering the plants and feeding the birds.”

Woody, grinning after his turn with the remote control car, spoke of his days racing cars. His favorites, he said, were Porsches. Corvettes, not so much. “They wobbled all over the place.” He pointed to a scar just above his eyebrows, a toll that was exacted when he crashed his ride at Phoenix International Raceway after skidding on an oil slick. He once competed in—and finished—the Mille Miglia, the thousand-kilometer race through Italy. What was it like?

“Long! There comes a time when you go, ‘Gosh, I wish I hadn’t done this.’ But I stayed at it. I finished the race and it about finished me too,” he said with a chuckle.

A Dementia Friends information session facilitate by Vicki L. McAllister will be held in the Fiesta Room at Westchester Senior Living, 6150 S. Rural Road, Tempe 5-6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 17