Memory Lane

Innovative memory care facilities and programs bring Seattle’s dementia sufferers into the light
Posted October 14, 2013
Myriam Marquez
Myriam Marquez became an Alzheimer’s research advocate when she was diagnosed with the disease at age 62

The Seattle area is home to a wide variety of options for dementia patients and their families. In addition to pioneering programs developed to help individuals suffering from dementia remain active (see sidebar, page 33), many local senior living facilities are offering innovative memory care that focus on creating an active and social environment for dementia patients through settings and activities that trigger familiar reminiscences. Local residential facilities, in particular, are offering groundbreaking memory care support programming.

Nora Gibson is executive director of Full Life Care, an organization that offers services and housing options for frail elders and individuals with chronic or terminal illnesses or debilitation in King and Snohomish counties. In addition to offering adult day programs specifically targeted at individuals with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s, Full Life also offers home health care and two memory care homes: Gaffney House on Capitol Hill and Buchanan Place in Columbia City. With 12–14 bedrooms, they offer an alternative to larger residential facilities and smaller adult family homes.

“Typically, most of the residents are not doing well in other memory care settings because of behavioral issues, and we find we are able to do a good job working with them. We wanted to create a 24-hour option that was very high quality and would meet their needs,” says Gibson.

One of their residents with dementia, for example, exhibited sleeping and eating patterns that were disruptive to the staff of the facility she lived in prior to coming to a Full Life memory care home. “She is a delightful person, but likes to walk around a lot and talk a lot. [The staff at the other facility] was sedating her too much to get her to go to sleep. At our place, we have 24-hour [a day] caregivers. We ended up decreasing her medication and her ‘inner Alice’ came out. We can accommodate those behaviors,” says Gibson. Gibson’s own mother lives at Gaffney House. “I’m just in awe of just how well the staff cares for her; they get a personal attachment to the residents,” she says.

Providence Mount St. Vincent—known as The Mount—in West Seattle also offers a flexible and accommodating program for its residents with cognitive challenges. “All behaviors have meaning. Even though someone may not be able to verbally express themselves, our whole philosophy is if we really know their history, we are better prepared to help them,” says administrator Tom Mitchell. Because of their whole approach, which includes responding to behavior without drugs and making efforts to understand the behavior of individual residents and anticipate their needs and habits, Mitchell says, the staff at The Mount has been able to reduce the level of psychotropic drugs to almost zero.