Taking action for memory care

An action station in the new Alzheimer's Ward in Somerby sits ready for use. (Reporter photo/Jon Goering)

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

HOOVER – Stationed along the walls of the brand-new memory care unit at the Somerby at St. Vincent’s One Nineteen retirement living community are “action centers,” designed to encourage activity among the unit’s residents.

One action center consists of a large crib, complete with baby dolls. Another has a dignified writing table, with an old-fashioned black typewriter sitting at attention. These offer residents the chance to feel more at home.

“It’s important to keep activities going all day,” said Michael Mays, president of Somerby. “For each of our residents, we have families fill out what we call a ‘recipe for life.’ It lets us know a little bit about their personalities and what they like to do.”

Through these ‘recipes,’ Somerby caretakers can find out about residents’ hobbies, habits and former professions, among other things. That helps caretakers recommend activities for residents – and it helps families know their loved ones, usually suffering from some form of dementia, will be entertained.

Resident Clyde Groover’s daughter, Linda Starnes, said she knew her father needed care she could not provide at home.

“I moved him here from North Carolina. I wanted my dad close to me,” she said. “I wanted to get him in here in the beginning so he could get more comfortable.”

Groover moved into the unit as soon as it opened in late August. He is one of six current residents, out of 24 apartments in the unit. Such a small number of possible residents allows for more personal care, and Starnes said that specialized care is exactly what her father needs.

“They are inviting him out for movies and games. They don’t depend on him to remember that. He needs that,” she said. “I see how much I want him to have interaction instead of with just me there. They’ll have things for him and time for him that I wouldn’t in my own home.”

Teresa Hazel, unit manager, said the memory care unit is successful because of a holistic approach to care.

“We focus on the resident as a whole, not just on their medical issues,” she said.

She said many times, families must turn to retirement living communities when they are unable to handle a loved one’s memory loss.

“In the first stages, the family starts noticing they don’t quite remember things, and there may be safety issues,” she said. “(Assisted living) can be a better option for the family and the resident. They can get the care they need.”

Mays said more than half of the calls to Somerby inquire if such a memory care unit is available. The unit is outfitted with a dining room and activities, and is secured to protect residents from unsafely leaving.

“First and foremost, we wanted to make sure we had this for our residents and our community,” he said. “It helps for them to have a quality memory care provider nearby. Families put a value on location, because the time you spend with your loved ones is invaluable.”

For more information on the memory care unit, visit Somerbyatstvincents.com or call 408-6005.