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More than 6.2 million Americans are living with some form of memory loss. As November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, it’s a good time to explore how we support our memory care residents. We have, in fact, implemented the Dementia Special Care Unit (DSCU) on our Peabody and Chelsea campuses, focusing on new tools and strategies for residents with dementia. The results have been significant.

Essentially, the DSCU provides specialized programming and therapeutic activities with a trained, dedicated staff. The unit was started because so many of our residents are living with dementia. Through the use of innovative technology such as the ABBY and the IN2L, along with staff members who have been trained and certified in the Teepa Snow Positive Approach to Care, our programming has expanded with great success.

Susan LeClaire, Therapeutic Activities Director of the Dementia Special Care Unit in Peabody and Chelsea is passionate about her work in the DSCU. When asked why she went into memory care, she was quick to respond, “My role in rehabilitation as a provider of occupational therapy (OT) to our seniors was the perfect segue into my position here,” remarked Susan. “OT focuses upon activities to help patients regain independence and get back to doing what they love after an illness, injury, or surgery. Similarly, the use of personalized multi-sensory activities can help our residents living with dementia retain the skills they have and maintain as much independence as possible.” Added Susan, “It’s so rewarding to see our residents enjoying themselves while engaged in productive, purposeful activities.”

The ABBY is a unique engagement technology that looks like a large retro TV/radio, complete with knobs to turn, buttons to press, a steering wheel mounted under the screen and a life-like cat with soft fur to pet. This device supports our residents when agitated. They can pet the cat which activates a video of an adorable frisky kitty engaged in tug of war with a bed sheet at the end of which is a giggling toddler. With the help of families, the ABBY can be personalized with videos and photos important to a particular resident. Our staff can easily access the content to provide a personalized engagement experience for the resident.

Additionally, staff utilize the IN2L, which is a huge 75” touchscreen computer on wheels pre-loaded with stimulating content to engage residents living with dementia. Familiar popular songs with large print words in a flash encourage the residents sing along. There is also a travel section, which allows residents to travel anywhere in the world in an instant! In essence, the IN2L enables socialization, cognitive stimulation, and improves the mood and emotional well-being for residents living with all levels of dementia. Other approaches for our memory care and Alzheimer residents involve therapeutic gardening, pet therapy, and music therapy, including the renowned Music & Memory program.

A key priority is to get to know the resident so activities can be tailored to an individual’s hobbies and history. “In a sense, my job is to act as a detective,”’ explained LeClaire. “With the help of our families, I try to find out as much as I can about each resident. This way, our staff will know and understand the unique roles, values, and interests of our residents before they were affected by the disease. More importantly, this information helps create strong bonds between our staff members and our residents.”