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 facility doesn’t segregate its residents based on diagnosis and offers both assisted living apartments and skilled nursing “neighborhoods”—clusters of private and shared rooms for about 20 residents who will benefit from 24-hour nursing care. “We believe some memory loss is a natural part of aging. If we were to segregate, there is a tendency to change our approach to care based on a resident’s diagnosis,” explains Mitchell.

Offering robust music, arts and exercise programming for residents, The Mount also has an onsite child daycare center, incorporating intergenerational activities into its programming as much as possible. “The kids are really open and they are fairly fearless. And being around children is some of that long-ago memory that you don’t necessarily lose,” says Mitchell. “It adds a richness to the experience and helps to remind the residents of their kids when they were young.”

Fond reminders of days gone by are at the foundation for Aegis Living’s “life skill stations.” Aegis, which has 30 senior living communities in California, Nevada and Washington and five in development, is a leader in memory care innovation, and incorporates these stations into each of its residences.

Designed to help redirect residents if they wander or become agitated, life skill stations also help to facilitate conversations among residents and their loved ones, and provide comfort to residents using familiar settings. Examples include the kitchen station, which may be outfitted with an older-style, non-working stove and a monitor playing an episode of Julia Child’s cooking show; or the road trip station, which may include a Route 66 road sign, a road trip game, and a variety of maps.

“In each of our communities, there is also a courtyard where residents can walk freely, and are extensions of the life skill stations,” says Aegis’ chief wellness officer, Shirley Newell, M.D. These “memory care gardens” are designed with a façade that replicates an old-fashioned version of the neighborhood surrounding it—in the Madison community, this includes a vintage car parked in a garage, a bus stop, malt shop and old-style home fronts. The courtyard in the planned Marymoor community, meanwhile, will be similar to a campground, complete with 1967 Airstream trailer. The idea behind these spaces and vignettes is to create familiar settings for dementia residents, who can wander safely and reminisce, as well as socialize with other residents. Aegis also hosts era-themed events for its residents and family members, such as a recent Jumpin’ Jive Lounge, where participants dressed up in 1950s attire and danced to music from the era. 

Although these Seattle organizations, and others, have taken leadership roles in addressing the needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, Marquez sees gaps in services that still need to be addressed.

“The issue that is really important to me is a program for people who live alone. There are a lot of people with dementia who live alone; there is no one there in the house or the apartment to see how they are doing,” she says. Marquez says this even impacts research being conducted on dementia: “When it comes to [research trials], for those of us who want to volunteer, the vast majority of [trials] require someone live with the person or have daily contact with the person to monitor them.”

For her own health, Marquez keeps a daily journal to track the progression of her disease. She encourages those with a family history of Alzheimer’s to seek early diagnosis and treatment, and to also get involved in the Alzheimer’s community. Most important, she adds, “Just have fun. We have a limited amount of time. Let’s make the best of it.” ✚