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MorseLife takes modern approach to memory care

MorseLife wants you to forget everything you thought you knew about memory care.

Since opening its newly constructed Memory Care Residences in 2015, the West Palm Beach nonprofit’s approach to caring for folks with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other degenerative neurocognitive conditions has been transformative.

Long gone is the idea that simply housing Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers is sufficient.

No, today’s modern approach does more than ensure Alzhemier’s and dementia patients’ safety — it emphasizes socialization and multisensory stimulation to provide as pleasurable a quality of life as possible.

“Before we even broke ground on the facility, our executive team toured the country to see what other contemporary memory care facilities were doing,” said Stephanie Frazier, executive director of MorseLife Memory Care. “We wanted to see what did — and did not — work.”

In creating the three-story, 52-unit apartment building — which has a separate, on-site 30-bed unit to provide care for those with advanced Alzheimer’s and dementia, Frazier said “we started with an open, inviting floor plan, and prioritized having a huge state-of-the-art kitchen — one that residents could access — in the center. Just as families in their homes tend to congregate in the kitchen, we wanted to make the kitchen a place where residents would naturally gather.”

And cook or bake, if they so desire. The kitchen is specially equipped with numerous safety features — for instance, “the stove automatically shuts off if a resident forgets to do so,” said Frazier — that ensures residents won’t injure themselves or others.

In addition to the benefits of socializing with fellow residents and staff, MorseLife found that encouraging residents to participate in fun food prep — cookies, cupcakes, breads, soups, pasta, meats, you name it — provides olfactory stimulation that’s often imbued with happy memories.

Because residents have 24/7 supervised access to the spacious kitchen, food-prep sessions can be completely spontaneous.

“We don’t have to schedule it in a segregated area,” Frazier explained. “It can — and often does — happen whenever the mood strikes.”

And the results are nothing short of mouthwatering: “The aromas that emanate from that kitchen are incredible,” said Dr. Karl Dhana, an internist and geriatric medicine specialist who serves at MorseLife’s senior vice president of medical affairs.

When not whipping up delectable new dishes — sometimes under the direction of a master chef — residents are continually stimulated via other enjoyable activities:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Garden therapy
  • Computer games
  • Exercise
  • Outdoor walks (residents are encourage to venture outside and traverse the facility’s spacious grounds)

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, studies have suggested that such engagement benefits Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers via “reduction of pain, improvement in attention, lessening of stress, modulation of agitation, lowering of as needed medications, antipsychotics and reduction of falls.”

What’s more, they give folks outlets to nonverbally express themselves as their progressive condition gradually decreases their ability to verbally communicate.

Sometimes, though, it’s the simplest pleasures that bring residents the most joy. Dhana noted that “the Memory Care Residence has an elevator that residents can ride as much as they want. Giving residents this simple ‘vehicle of freedom’ often transports them back to a time when they rode elevators or trains or drove their cars.”

Whatever helps residents, Frazier and Dhana are all for.

“We’re always trying to minimize residents’ need for medication and never say ‘no’ to them,” explained Frazier. “Our staff is specially trained to ‘redirect’ residents whenever necessary — but not limit them.”

With MorseLife’s large staff-to-resident ratio and its multitude of memory care programs available, Frazier also noted, “We can take patients other facilities can’t.”

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