CLINTON — Sometimes it can be easy to take the simple pleasures in life for granted, like enjoying a favorite meal or singing old songs, but staff at Brookdale Senior Living are integrating those special moments into the memory care of its residents.
Memory care is a special kind of care provided to those with varying degrees of dementia or Alzheimer’s. It involves creating a structured environment that has set schedules and routines in place to create a stress-free lifestyle, safety features to ensure the health of a senior, and programs designed to cultivate cognitive skills.
At the 115 Brookside Road campus, seniors facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s and dementia live in an apartment-like home with premium safety features, surrounded by their peers and nurturing staff members. Even small pets are allowed. Right now there are 35 residents, but the facility can accommodate up to 40.
Program Coordinator Bethany Papale explained that she and staff follow the Clare Bridge Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program when caring for residents, which was a concept created more than 30 years ago that has evolved by continually embracing the latest research in dementia care, coupled with the experience of caring for thousands of people with dementia and their families.
Brookdale associates are trained in the concept of generating daily moments of success, and offer opportunities for residents to find happiness and meaning by supporting their unique needs. The program is deeply rooted in a person-centered approach focused on sustaining feelings of belonging and purpose while seeking to preserve identity and a sense of self.
“It’s something that Brookdale has studied and it works very well with dementia patients,” Papale said.
An example of this concept is residents’ Daily Path. The Daily Path is a schedule of activities and events for throughout the day that keeps seniors mentally and physically engaged, and is tailored to their individual likes and interests.
For example, on April 11, seniors started their day with B Fit exercises, which is an exercise routine developed by Brookdale that not only promotes health and keeps residents moving, it’s repetitiveness also helps build and maintain memory and cognitive skills, Papale explained.
“They are Brookdale-specific exercises — there’s eight different ones that we go through,” she said.
The Clare Bridge Daily Path offers a gentle daily structure of six planned programs per day, which maintain residents’ abilities and encourage the use of their current skills. These activities include: a morning cognitive workout with discussions, brain stimulating games and physical activity with a variety of opportunities like Brookdale’s Fitness B Fit program, group exercises, walking programs and dancing.
Following morning exercises, refreshments are usually served, which are planned a total of three times a day. Then there was a meeting of the History Club.
“We do six activities each day that are mentally stimulating,” Papale said. “Today was history, but we’ll also do (general) trivia, sports trivia, musical trivia and mind benders.”
Seniors are “more willing” to engage in activities “if they have daily moments of success,” and they’re in an environment where they can “still thrive,” she said.
Then there are usually two creative activities per day, like cooking demonstrations, crafts and painting.
Resident Janice Schultz is proof that activities at Brookdale are tailored to their particular interests and talents. Schultz’s husband Bob encouraged her to try painting years ago when it was something she believed she’d “never be able to do.” It became one of her passions and not only does she continue her favorite hobby at Brookdale, she is able to share it with her fellow residents. Some of her masterpieces adorn the walls of her room.
“Janice will lead our painting activities,” Papale said. “We are able to personalize our programs and tailor them to our residents to fit their needs. They get to be who they are.”
There are also activities that encourage movement like Zumba, Indoor Walking Club, yoga, bean bag toss, billiard games and bowling. The Sing A Long with SuzieQ stimulates memories through singing, and there is also chorus practice and time to share short stories. And if a group is too large or there is an activity a senior really isn’t interested in, Papale said there are opportunities to engage in other simultaneous activities.
“We always have entertainment coming in and we’re sure to plan intergenerational activities,” the program coordinator said. “We have a wide range of residents, so at 4 p.m. we offer two different activities at the same time so they always have other options. For example, today, if they didn’t want to participate in the sing-a-long, we were also offering manicures. It’s so everyone is engaged.”
Some days a specific time is scheduled for something as simple as telling each other jokes or watching Wheel of Fortune and the evening news.
“On Sundays we’ll relax and read, or we’ll watch movies in the evening — we’ll have things going on that are ‘get them ready for bed-ish’” starting at 7 p.m., Papale said. “We’ll have large group and small group activities so seniors can participate and thrive in environments they’re comfortable in.”
Chef Richard Fluharty has the important job of treating residents to meals they enjoy daily, as well as stimulating their senses through colors and smells.
“Food triggers memories,” the chef said, adding that memory care is even highlighted in the cooking. “A lot of the cooking has to do with meeting the needs of the residents, but it also has to look good, so it can make them feel good. I try to have lots of colors (for stimulation) on their plate too. When I cook onions and peppers for example, this place perks right up.”
Sometimes there are special food themes incorporated into the Daily Path schedule, with Thursdays usually being Pizza Day. Fluharty said he uses only homemade pizza sauce and crust. The chef is also known to try recipes given to him by residents or their family members.
“They love it,” he said of the pizza. “We try to have a wide variety of foods on the menu to appeal to everybody. And if the residents don’t like something on the menu, there’s always grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches available.”
There’s even the occasional “monotony breaker” on the menu that encourages seniors to try something they may have never had before. An example was when Fluharty made orange chicken with fried rice, which was well-received, he said.
“All the different smells triggers them into trying something new,” the chef said. “And if something doesn’t go over well the first time we make it, that doesn’t mean we won’t try it again.”
Part of Fluharty’s job and the rest of the cooking staff is to “learn the residents,” which means having knowledge of their likes and dislikes. There’s certain types of diets they must also accommodate and be vigilant of, as well as different types of food allergies. Fluharty said he purposely doesn’t cook with a lot of salt, taking into consideration residents’ cardiovascular health. So much detail must go into ordering groceries and planning the menu.
“I enjoy my job and it’s the residents who make me want to be here,” Fluharty said. “And knowing that I’m doing something good for them is my reward.”