When a loved one is diagnosed with a memory related disease such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you want to give them with the best care you can. Providing 24-hour care at home is challenging and physically taxing on the caregiver. Although a caregiver may love the individual dearly, sometimes it’s just too much for one person to handle. Acknowledging and evaluating these challenges brings awareness to the fact it may be time to consider a loving environment that feels like home, enriches life, and stimulates the senses through a variety of experiences could very well meet everyone’s needs.
Arbors of del Rey in Las Cruces is a small and loving community that specializes in memory care. “It is a freestanding assisted living home dedicated to a holistic approach to memory care and is the only community in southern New Mexico associated with The Eden Alternative, an international movement designed to address the three plagues that come from moving someone from what they have always known to be home to a new home: boredom, loneliness, and helplessness,” says Executive Director Lupe Rios.
In order to help the elders living at Arbors of Del Rey overcome those plagues, the staff members which are called are partners — help to ensure that all five senses are stimulated throughout the day and give them opportunities to participate in activities that add meaning to their days. As part of the Eden Alternative activities, elders interact with the pets at Arbors, including goats (Laurel and Hardy), Laverne the rabbit, Paco the rooster, a pair of cockatiels (Ricky and Lucy) and turtles (Sonny and Cher), along with visits from Jackson and Libby from Therapaws. The lush garden and covered patio provide a safe and relaxing area to be outdoors and enjoy the fresh air, listen to the gurgling water feature and chirping birds, and spend time with family, friends, and the animals.
Rios says, “A lot of our elders have grown up on farms and they relate to the animals no matter where they are in their disease.”
But their senses aren’t stimulated just with the animals and garden. Rios brags about the delicious scents that come from their centrally located kitchen, where their elders are always welcome to help prepare a meal or even ask for something special to be put on the menu. Ice cream, she admits, is a favorite treat for the elders and care partners alike.
She says, “We bake, we cook, we open the doors when it’s a fresh morning outside and when it rains, we open windows in the back so they can smell the rain.” They also use essential oils to provide comforting aromatherapy.
Listening to their favorite genre of music has been proven to be especially helpful for those with dementia, making them feel happier, calmer, and often awakening positive memories. Rios explains, “We have music throughout the house playing different songs they grew up with, from Buddy Holly to Frank Sinatra to soft classical music. We’re very aware of when they ‘sundown’ in the evening and play more calm music throughout the home. Our sound system allows us to play their choice of music throughout the home. We have volunteers and family members who come visit and provide live entertainment by playing the piano.”
Rios adds, “No matter where you are in the home, you will hear the sounds of life: conversations, laughter, music, and if outside, the waterfall, birds, and the sight of goats playing. They hear and feel life happening around them.”
Hands-on activities include making clay pottery on the potter’s wheel or creating other art projects with Shavonne Garcia, Arbors’ Enrichment Advocate. Garcia schedules spa days for everyone, including hand massages with aromatherapy oils. Rios explains that human touch is very important and that the care partners intentionally touch or hold their hands providing a sense of security and love. The home’s pets or visiting dogs also provide their elders the sense of touch, which can be soothing as well. The elders help fold laundry or help in the kitchen if they wish, which provides the opportunity to be involved in the community and feel useful.
Art around the home adds visual interest, as do the gardens. The building has a layout that allows the elders to move freely from one living area to another. Rios explains that a tendency to wander is part of the disease, or “walking with forgetfulness” as they prefer to call it. The elders can enjoy their own rooms, or go to common areas such as a television area, the patio and garden, the dining room, the intimate art studio, piano room or stop by the kitchen to see what sous chef Michael Manzanares is whipping up for the next delicious meal that fills the home with an irresistible aroma.
Guests are the most interesting part of the day. Rios says, when family members come by, they often visit with the rest of the elders, smiling and talking and perhaps bringing along a pet, children, and even special treats to share.
Rios says, “Our focus is to celebrate life with those who are walking with forgetfulness. Everyone who works here and is part of this journey has the passion and the love. The love comes first. I’m very proud of our team. The elders are our family, no matter what. They’re not just ‘Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So. They’re our family.”
For more information about Arbors of del Rey, call Lupe Rios at 382-5200 or go to vistaliving.com.
For more information about the Eden Alternative, go to edenalt.org.