Aging population drives new emphasis on memory care

Stella Okyere-Boateng, a certified nurse assistant, discusses a memory activity with Alice, one of the residents.

By Diana Nelson

Caring for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s requires a special calling, one that—unlike the patients who contend with the disease’s debilitating effects—seems to improve with age.

The notion that more experience results in more real-world ability to treat those experiencing Alzheimer’s and other disabling conditions comes from Dennis Thrush, resident director of Westchester Senior Living in Tempe.

Now, after 30 years of providing independent and assisted living, Thrush says Westchester can meet the increased community need for memory care at a newly expanded 24-bed unit known as Tivoli Manor.

For years, Westchester has offered support to families in the area, including short- or long-term rehab, memory care and hospice.

Now, with the expansion, Westchester is ready to accommodate the increased needs of an aging public. “We have 73 residents and 17 vacancies in Villa, which is independent living; 22 residents and two vacancies in Garden Court, which is assisted living; and 18 residents and six vacancies with three reservations in Tivoli,” said Thrush.

“It was a natural progression for us to develop Tivoli Manor, which offers families care for a loved one who needs the extra attention and security provided in a memory unit,” said Thrush.

Westchester is owned and overseen by Volunteers of America, which has operated facilities for older adults for nearly a century. A Christian-based organization, VOA places its focus on a mission that revolves around a dedicated ministry of service, supporting and empowering America’s most vulnerable groups.

Although assisted living communities such as Westchester may also have memory care units on the premises, the two types of care are not synonymous, said Thrush.

Assisted living is defined as a long-term-care option that combines housing, support services and health care. Personal-care services in assisted living facilities may include medication management and transportation, and care is available around the clock.

Memory care is a distinct form of long-term, skilled nursing that specifically caters to patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other types of memory problems.

Memory-care units usually provide 24-hour supervised care within a separate, secure wing or floor of a residential facility.

By offering both levels of services, it also allows current assisted-living residents at Westchester a way to stay at the facility—with similar routines and familiar faces—even if they reach the point where they need enhanced memory care.

“Fortunately, we have compassionate staff that offer ‘person-centered’ care,” said Thrush.

“Our caregivers do their best to know as much as possible about each of our residents, so that they feel comfortable in their living environment.”

One member of the care team is Dawn Dunn Rice, who serves as the facility’s activities director. Trained as a graphic artist, Rice taps into her creative side by picturing each resident’s whole self, so that they feel included.

“I try to dangle several carrots in front of them and see which ones they bite on,” said Rice, explaining her strategy to reach a patient suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“We have a computer program called IN2L—It’s Never too Late—which helps participants keep their minds as active as possible with games or individual pages with family photos.”

Rice also encourages family members to help each memory resident create a personalized memory book, which includes items to tell the story of their life.

“Many patients with memory disorders become agitated, and by looking through the memory book, it’s soothing to them,” said Rice.

She also plans outings, weather permitting, to nearby locations like Kiwanis Park. Activities are geared to the capabilities of the individual resident.

“Suffering from a dementia-like disease is like being in a prison,” said Thrush, who entered the field of senior care after first retiring himself. “I wish I had discovered this profession earlier in life, because at the end of the day, it’s very satisfying to provide care for our residents.”

Westchester Senior Living is at 6100 S. Rural

Road, Tempe. Information/tours: 480-831-8660.


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