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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 23, 2009

 New ‘neighborhood’ opens at Atria,
providing Alzheimer’s patients with care meant to feel like home

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Life Guidance calls its assisted living units for patients with Alzheimer’s disease “neighborhoods.”

This is because it attempts to approximate the individual freedom and care that comes with living in a community.

A new Life Guidance neighborhood — the 59th of its kind in the country, and the second in Albany County — has just opened in Atria Guilderland. A public event held on July 20 let people take a tour of the new wing, and listen to Alzheimer’s and Life Guidance experts speak about the importance of innovative care.

The National Life Guidance program director, Cynthia Lilly, spoke about the six components that form the core of the system — relationship with the resident, relationship with the family, staff training, activities, social and emotional environment, and outreach.

“We want to be the best at what we do,” said Lilly, who has worked with Life Guidance for three and a half years and, she said, “loved every minute of it.”

Regional vice president of operations for Atria, Paula Percas said, “We are really excited to be licensed, and just so glad to have the unit open.”

Alzheimer’s expert David Troxel, who has been in the field for close to 25 years and serves as a consultant for Life Guidance, said that good care is about the whole, 24 hour day.

“It’s the little things that count, and that’s what we strive for,” Troxel said.

Regional Life Guidance Program Specialist Terry Wallace indicated that in Atria Guilderland’s new wing, the small things are emphasized. The idea is to take the “best friends approach” as advocated by Troxel. It is so much easier to care for individuals if you know them well, he said.

“If staff can take just 30 seconds a day to be less task-oriented, and more people-focused, it can make a huge difference,” said Troxel.

Employees of the Life Guidance program are trained to get to know residents intimately. “Our goal is to know 100 things about each resident,” said Wallace, because each resident has a unique history.

Although there is no cure, the field of knowledge on Alzheimer’s is doubling every 18 months, according to Troxel. New medications are being produced and tested, and some have been proven to help slow the progression of the disease.

It is especially important to focus on Alzheimer’s care because of the rise in cases as the baby-boomer generation ages, according to Troxel, who said that, when he started his work 25 years ago, many people didn’t know what Alzheimer’s was. Now he has a hard time finding anyone who hasn’t had a family member or friend affected by the disease.

The big picture

The Alzheimer’s Association of Northeastern New York, located on Washington Avenue Extension, serves people in a 17-region area, including Albany County. Gretchen Moore-Simmons, a professional development specialist, said the association served 16,000 individuals with Alzheimer’s last year, with an estimated 40,000 to 45,000 individuals suffering from the disease throughout the coverage region. Just over 10,000 of the people served live in Albany County.

According to Moore-Simmons, specialized memory care units are extremely important as the number of Alzheimer’s cases rise. People with dementia and memory problems need unique care, different than the ordinary care provided to other residents in assisted living facilities and nursing homes, Moore-Simmons said.

It is imperative that staff members are trained to deal specifically with Alzheimer’s patients before working in a memory care unit. Caregivers need to understand how to deal with the different communication styles; and to consider the “physicality of the environment” in the unit, Moore-Simmons said, meaning the setting, like wall color and artwork. Soothing and calming environments are best, she said.

A number of facilities in Albany County have dedicated memory care units, and Moore-Simmons said, as far as she is concerned, they are very effective. In addition to the other Life Guidance unit, at Atria Shaker, there are two other facilities with dedicated units in the area — Beacon Point in Schenectady, and Hawthorne Ridge in East Greenbush.

“We partner with many organizations, and what we will be doing with Life Guidance at Atria Guilderland will be very similar to what we do in the other dementia units,” said Moore-Simmons, noting that, any time a new dementia-dedicated unit opens, it is a step in the right direction.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week help line, care consultations, support groups, and education programs.

“Every program is run a bit differently, and it looks like Life Guidance is working to incorporate the latest research on the disease into their care, which is great,” Moore-Simmons said.

Slowing the disease

“Until we find the ultimate cure, we have to rely on environmental factors,” said Troxel.

There are several factors that research has shown can help prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimers, said Troxel. Those include exercise, which increases the oxygen flow, and can slow the brain’s atrophy; socializing; challenging the brain, which Troxel referred to as “use it or lose it”; drinking five or more cups of coffee a day; and eating fish at least once a week.

While those factors are meant to help prevent dementia, they can be incorporated in the care of individuals who already suffer from the disease, as a means of slowing its progress, according to Troxel.

Life Guidance programs offer exercise twice a day, have walking groups for the residents, plan outings once a week, and have fantastic food service, said Wallace.

“We try to stimulate the five senses daily,” Wallace said.

Wallace emphasized the layout of the unit in Atria Guilderland as being secure, yet open. There are several sitting areas, one of which is a sunroom, as well as a courtyard with a gazebo and gardens, specifically for use by the Alzheimer’s unit residents.

“If someone wants to come outside for a breath of fresh air at 2 am, then they can do that. It’s all about preserving independence in a safe environment,” Wallace said.

The unit will have 21 residents — eight of them in doubles, and the rest in single rooms. The cost ranges from $3,995 to $5.995 per month, depending on the size of the room. Percas explained that residency in the memory care unit is more costly than other units in Atria, because of the much higher staffing ratio; there is always a staff-to-resident ratio of at least one to eight, she said. Medicare and Medicaid are not accepted.

 Each room is outfitted with its own full bathroom. In addition to the common rooms, a fully-equipped kitchen is located directly off the dining area, and is open for use by the residents when a staff member is present.

Staff members, who go through at least one hour of training each month, are as supportive as possible, and residents are encouraged to formulate their own schedule, said Wallace.

“This is their home,” he said.  

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