CJL in The Boston Globe: Dementia Special Care Units use new tools, strategies for improving quality of life for residents
“We focus not on what has been lost, but on all the abilities that remain.”
By: Cindy Cantrell, Globe Correspondent
Photos: Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
PEABODY — During her distinguished career in Washington, D.C., attorney Patricia P. Bailey worked at the National Women’s Political Caucus and the Department of Justice, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as a commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, and was a founding board member at Arbella Insurance Group, where she served until her retirement in 2019.
Praising her “highly accomplished and overall amazing mother,” who’s now 85, Kate Bailey of Marblehead was heartbroken to witness her decline after her transition from assisted living into memory care.
“My mother went from being the most important person in every room to not knowing what was happening to her, which was scary. She didn’t want other people to see her that way, so she withdrew inside herself,” said Kate. She credited the combination of compassionate care, stimulating activities, and engaging technology at the Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living in Peabody — where Bailey, 85, moved in February 2022 — as a “lifesaver.”
“Now my mother gets up and dresses on her own, reads the newspaper, talks to her friends, and participates in activities. Once I walked in on her baking cookies and telling the woman next to her what to do,” said Kate, whose next thought was, “There she is, telling people what to do. That’s the Mom I remember.”
“We feel so blessed to have our mother back,” she added. “My brother and I are very grateful.”
According to Betsy Mullen, chief operating officer for Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, a $75,000 grant from the Brooklyn-based Sephardic Foundation on Aging last summer enabled staff to implement new tools and strategies for improving the quality of life for residents. Under the Chelsea Jewish Lifecare umbrella, Dementia Special Care Units are located at the Brudnick Center for Living and the Katzman Family Center for Living in Chelsea.
The funding has purchased new dining chairs and gliders, upgraded gardens and other common areas, and trained and certified staff members in the Teepa Snow Positive Approach to Care method, which imparts common-sense, practical skills to help connect and interact with anyone living with brain change. In addition, the units were recently equipped with newly purchased engagement technology designed to relieve boredom and loneliness with minimal help required by caregivers.
“We focus not on what has been lost, but on all the abilities that remain,” said Mullen, citing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and socializing as examples. “Everything we do is dedicated to helping our residents lead happier, healthier lives.”
One of the most popular ambient technology innovations is ABBY, a wall-mounted computer designed with buttons, dials, and switches reminiscent of vintage-style televisions and radios. Residents also may pet the soft fur of a lifelike cat or use a steering wheel to “drive” down a country road. The touch screen enables meaningful ways for visitors to connect with loved ones by playing pre-selected or personalized videos, songs, and photos of families, pets, and favorite places.
The iN2L (built on the idea “it’s never too late”) engagement system is a 75-inch, touch-screen computer on wheels that is preloaded with trivia, games, popular songs, large-print lyrics, and a travel box enabling armchair sightseers to “visit” anywhere in the world.
Other enrichment activities for memory care residents include therapeutic gardening, baking, music, and pet therapy.
According to Susan LeClaire, therapeutic activities director at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, it is essential to learn residents’ personal preferences and histories — especially in order to reach those who feel isolated or resist care.
One man declined gardening, for example, but admired the flowers as he watered them. A woman wasn’t physically able to help bake, but she commented on the pleasing aromas as she closely monitored the action.
“Another time, I saw a daughter start to cry while watching her mother banter back and forth with a friend. She told me, ‘I’m so happy to see my mom laughing and having fun,” LeClaire said. “I call them moments of grace and they are magical. I wish everyone could see these instances which occur so often.”
Lynnfield resident Lynn Mazzarella said she has witnessed several involving her 90-year-old mother, Ruth Williams, who enjoys gardening, flower-arranging, music-based activities, and engaging with ABBY at the Katzman Family Center for Living.
“[ABBY] piques her interest because it’s new and different,” said Mazzarella, noting that Williams is particularly fond of the animal scenes. “It opens up a whole new world for her, which is wonderful to see.”
Kate Bailey said iN2L has helped bring out her mother’s trademark humor, such as when she recently teased a staff member during trivia by saying, “I know the answer, but I don’t want to tell you and ruin it for everyone else.”
“My mother is an amazing woman who has paved the way for so many others,” Kate said. “She took care of everyone her whole life. To know she’s in a place where she is being taken care of now means everything to me.”
Cindy Cantrell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Featured Image Caption: Cheyenne Mize, a music therapist with Wishing Well Music, asks Gloria Gagnon to pick a drum to play at the Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living in Peabody. JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF]