Innovations in Memory Care
By: Brenda Gurung
Memory Care communities have continued to grow and change, implementing programming and philosophies designed to increase the quality of life for seniors with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. I had the good fortune to experience two such innovations with Watermark Retirement Communities.
Imagine a senior later in her dementia journey who is no longer able to recognize the purpose of a fork. She has been eating less, preferring foods that are easy to hold by hand. She isn’t able to maintain focus at meals and eats just a few bites. Maybe she doesn’t quite chew enough and coughs when she swallows. Because of all this she is underweight.
Now imagine a senior living community that offers a dining program that brings dignity to meals, with chefs who prepare attractive, hand held meals that are tasty, nutritious and easy to swallow. This is the kind of transformation Watermark had in mind when they began their Thrive Dining program.
I recently experienced Thrive Dining at Watermark at Logan Square East in Philadelphia, a community which offers a variety of senior loving options, including Independent and Assisted Living, as well as a neighborhood dedicated for Memory Care.
With every meal in their memory care neighborhood, there is a Thrive Dining entree available that is prepared at the community by their chefs. Take French toast, for example. First, they utilize a grinder to break up French toast – it’s not pureed but broken into tiny bits. Chefs mix the broken-down pieces with a protein like bacon, form into small two-bite triangles, which are easy to grasp. They next bake and serve with warm maple syrup
Rob Bobbitt, National Director of Dining Services for Watermark, explains that they’ve found that residents consume more and are more engaged and more independent during dining. Residents are better able to swallow each bite – even if they chew less completely – because it’s already broken down. And they’re better able to absorb nutrients.
Investment in Training
Watermark has also invested heavily in staff education, providing Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) training for all team members who work in Memory Care – their nurses, care partners, programming teams, housekeepers and others.
I participated in an all-day CDP training facilitated by Kelly Ording, Regional Director of Resident Programming, at Harvard Square Retirement Community in Denver. Kelly is an engaging facilitator. She said “I have been in the industry for over 15 years and during that time I have seen a metamorphosis of how we view memory care. [Our] vision of Creating Extraordinary Communities Where People Thrive is truly something we live each day. For me, memory care needs constant attention in ensuring that our residents enjoy life and have access to the same amenities that other residents in our communities enjoy.”
Two things I found especially meaningful from this training:
- Team members who work in Watermark’s Memory Care neighborhoods have a specific role as a Naya – a Sanskrit word meaning guide. They are expected and empowered to come alongside residents on their journey with dementia. They provide assistance with care needs in a way that is designed to acknowledge the ability and personhood of each resident.
- Watermark emphasizes social support and connection before pharmacological intervention, meeting care needs and medical directives. Kelly gave an example of a resident who no longer communicated in English but in her language of childhood, Estonian. She also “communicated” through dementia behaviors. Kelly made a binder of photos from the resident’s homeland and looked through the binder with her. That binder became a bridge of connection for the resident – it gave her comfort and created trust, that Kelly and the Nayas recognized her and her story. In moments of lucidity, the resident even regained some of her English.
I’d like to close with a message from Bill Zachau, National Director of Sales for Watermark:
At Watermark, everything we do is driven by our vision to create extraordinary communities where people thrive. Whether it is offering pioneering programs like Thrive Dining, our Naya caregiver program where associates interact alongside residents throughout the day, or simply focusing on what mom can do, never what she cannot. This vision is our guiding light and it empowers us to truly make a difference in the lives of our associates and residents.
Brenda Gurung is a National Account Manager with A Place for Mom and serves on the Speakers’ Bureau for the Alzheimer’s Association – Colorado Chapter.