Care strategy: Treat patients like family

It will be a family affair at a newly opened memory care unit in Rantoul that is part of a state pilot project for people with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia conditions.

Katy's Cottage, a wing at Prairie Village Retirement Community, opened May 25 and is already about half full.

Jolene Grant, Prairie Village executive director, said staff will try to create a family atmosphere in caring for the residents — whether it be the taking of meals together or activities.

Grant said keeping residents active and involved stimulates a greater feeling of well-being and delays the progress of dementia.

"A home atmosphere is what (people) like," Grant said, "and that's what we're creating. It's ... positive reinforcement. (They) eat together as a family; they do activities as a family; they do exercise as a family."

During meals, when most care facilities feed one or two people at tables scattered throughout the dining area, residents will eat at one large table. They also set the table together and pass the dishes while eating, just like at a family meal.

"Some people who didn't talk before are talking now, we've noticed," Grant said.

Dr. Ian Wang, a co-owner of Prairie Village whose medical specialty is community health care and management, said he has always advocated more of a home atmosphere in the care of the elderly. He said he set up Prairie Village with that philosophy, and he has been advocating a shift toward that type of care for the past 10 years.

"Our model — the closer to the home atmosphere, the best quality of life — (is) the most enjoyable for residents" compared to nursing home care, Wang said. "This has been a model of Prairie Village from day one."

Wang said that after many years of debate, the state appears to be moving closer to that approach in caring for people suffering from dementia.

Prairie Village is one of five facilities selected from among 150 applicants to implement the pilot program. It is the second facility to open the unique memory care unit. A facility in Effingham opened earlier and was full within two months of opening.

Facilities in Chicago, Decatur and North Aurora were also selected for the project.

"We are going to be a model for the state," Grant said, "and so what we do here and in Decatur, Effingham, Chicago and North Aurora will set a precedent of what the other supportive living facilities will do for memory care units."

Katy's Cottage is a 19-unit facility. Wang said five residents were already living there less than a week after it opened, with three more signed up.

The facility is separate from the main wing of Prairie Village and has separate entry ways.

Six additional staff were hired for the memory care unit, which is headed by unit manager Kellie Unzicker, a registered nurse.

"She's very patient and very gentle" with residents, Grant said, adding that all of the staff had experience working with people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia prior to coming to work at the facility.

Katy's Cottage will have round-the-clock nursing care.

Each resident has a private suite — with its own living space and bathroom.

An activity area is bordered by a kitchen, where residents, with help from staff, can make food dishes. Last week, they helped make cookies. A specially designed safety stove is used to prevent burns.

A garden area is located just off the dining room, where residents helped put in tomato plants.

"Our activity program is what we focus on, too," Grant said. "The more activities that you do to keep them going, the better off they are because it keeps them motivated, and it helps with their memory."

The unit also incorporates background music into much of daily life.

"Music ... is one of the first things that you're taught when you're little, and it's one of the last things that you lose when you get older," Grant said.

The program moved forward following Odyssey Program testing that had been conducted in Champaign-Urbana in which area seniors solved puzzles, word association and other games designed to keep their minds alert.

The memory care unit is also decorated in colors that studies have found are more amenable to seniors with dementia. There are no yellows or reds because they tend to overstimulate the residents, Grant said.

One "function here is to try to prevent or delay the development of the dementia getting worse," Wang said. "Nobody knows what causes the dementia, but we found that several measures do help to delay" its advancement.

Life at Katy's Cottage won't be regimented.

"One thing that is required is to let the residents live their life the way they want to live it," Grant said. "We just enhance it and help them out with the personal care they have like washing, bathing, medication reminders, things like that."

Grant said positive reinforcement is emphasized.

For instance, if a resident loses a hair brush, a staff member might say that she can't find the brush and ask the resident to help find it.

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