People with Alzheimer's and dementia may be losing mental capacities, but that doesn't mean — like the rest of us — they shouldn't have pleasure, attention and fun.
At Roxy Ann Memory Community, that's what they do: sing, dance, play, paint pictures, make music, garden and, most importantly, have access to animals, children and caring people of all generations, just as you'd have in the regular world, says Dar Wolber, a former high school principal and administrator of the home in north Medford.
"We're getting away from the old nursing-home model and bringing life back in," says Wolber. "We have kids helping and playing with the elders. They're my grandchildren or the children of staff members — and their pets. Studies show that when kids are present, it does a lot for health and well-being of the elders."
Roxy Ann is an "Eden registered" home, which means they've been trained and certified by Eden Alternatives, a nonprofit in the "culture change movement" for transformative care, shifting away from the sterile institutional model and toward "person directed values" of choice, purposeful living, respect and dignity, according to their mission statement.
Eden is a global training organization whose goal is to rid "the plague of loneliness, helplessness and boredom in the lives of elders," says its website, which describes aging as "a stage of development and growth, not decline."
Its principles include loving companionship, giving as well as receiving care (to counter helplessness), spontaneous activities (to counter boredom) and decision-making by elders.
Roxy Ann and Hearthstone Nursing and Rehabilitation in Medford are the only two Eden-certified homes in Oregon — and Roxy Ann is the only "memory community," meaning their elders have dementia and Alzheimer's.
Part of the Eden philosophy is that language can be changed to honor people. So, for instance, people are called "elders," not seniors, patients or residents, said Wolber.
On a recent day, elementary-age kids hustled back and forth, sharing a small dog and aiding the 16 elders with painting, one of many activities designed to make elders feel engaged, creative and bonded with others. The elders are also encouraged to be helpful with the operation of the home, through growing food, cleaning house, cooking and other activities.
Wolber's wife, Janice, leads dance sessions with music therapist Donny Roze. Dance counters depression, she says, pointing to a woman in her mid-50s (a former fitness professional) who readily shook off a bout of depression by prancing about the room to "Blue Suede Shoes."
"A lot of facilities are concerned with just physical well-being, and we're going to the next level, caring for the heart and human spirit," says Wolber's daughter, Teresa Oliveri, a registered nurse and director of health services. Her brother also works there — and their minor children help out with social tasks.
"It's exciting, and we're seeing all the elders here off sleeping meds. They're more cheerful and content and are worn out by the day's activities, so they're sleeping through what's usually the worst time for them, midnight to 6 in the morning."
Ty Schroeder of Medford, whose husband Bob has dementia and Parkinson's, described him as a social person, and though he can't interact much, "he gets someone to sit down with him and play — and direct him to activities he can do."
Roxy Ann is a family-run operation, started by the Wolbers after their experience helping family members with Alzheimer's.
"We fell in love with Alzheimer's people," said Wolber.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.