Sunny Vale Memory Care 

The longest of my all essay final for Intro to Dementia was to choose a space for PWD (persons with dementia) to receive services, be it their own home, a skilled nursing facility, assisted living facility or adult day program and show in 3-4 pages, what special attention to details of dining, lighting, safety I’d most pay attention to.

Sunny Vale Memory Care Center is my hypothetical assisted living facility of which I am the hypothetical Administrator, and Director of Spiritual Care. It’s long, but I’m really proud of this one.

Welcome to Sunny Vale Memory Care. We are an Assisted Living facility where your loved one will learn to live with memory loss in meaningful ways- some new, some familiar. We are committed to person centered care that values people first, takes into considerations their unique and individual needs, considers the experience of memory loss and moving from their perspective, and strives to create as supportive an environment as possible.

You may have noticed when you walked through our doors, that we have a cat who roams freely about the facility. We have found that having a pet is a great comfort to most of our residents, especially when they first come to make their new home here. Sassafras, or, Sassy, is sweeter than her name would suggest and has helped a number of our residents in many life transitions – from initial move in to the transition to hospice care and even life’s end.

Our lobby is structured in this open atrium format because exposure to the natural light from the windows is beneficial in promoting restful sleep for our residents, and the vitamin D from the sun is a built – in falls prevention initiative. Speaking of falls, you will notice that we have handrails placed around the ramps and walkways in the lobby and leading to the living spaces and rooms.

We also have strip lighting, strategically placed so as not to create a trip hazard, so that residents who have vision problems can see where they are going when they come to the atrium. The community garden outside the doors is fertilized with coffee grounds and crushed eggshells. We don’t use chemicals to fertilize and we only grow edible plants and flowers because sometimes our residents like to sneak a taste of nature while they are out enjoying the sun with one of our intensively trained caregivers.

Our caregiving staff is asked to go above and beyond when they apply to work here. All CNA, Nurse Management, Psychology, Social Work, Speech. PT, OT and Chaplaincy staff are required to complete a 60-hour training in dementia and care. They learn things like how to help a person with dementia have agency in their lives even in later stages, stage – appropriate activities to keep the brain engaged and stimulated, and other things that make them the best of the best caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s type and other types of dementia.

They are more than caregivers and providers. They are companions on a journey that can often feel isolating. We like to foster a sense of home here in everything we do, from the gardening that is designed to jog memories of gardening at home, to the fire places in each of the living spaces on all 4 wings of our memory care facility.

Each wing, as you can see, is a pod composed of 8 rooms. The center of the pod is our dining and family area. The dining room has 2 tables, where 4 residents can sit together and enjoy a family style meal. We ask the local community organizations interested in giving to our work to donate placemats, napkins and table runners, as well as armchairs and sofas, slipcovers and throw pillows. We rotate them out, to keep it interesting and clean, but we have been able to have real cloth placemats and napkins at mealtimes, to add to the family feel.

The table runner is always placed on the counter at the nurse’s station where we display a fresh floral arrangement (again, only edible flowers, or silk flowers). Our facility looks big because we like to encourage residents to use the open spaces, facilitating this with large doorways so they can get in and out of rooms easily, but we only have 16 residents at any given time.

This is my favorite room. The piano room, and both wings have one. At Christmastime, this is where we like to put up the Christmas trees. When we built the place, we asked the architect to design the resident living spaces as pods, and we knew it would look awkward to have a weird square room kind of branching off to one side, but it was important to us. This is where we have special music programs, and we have a small library as you can see, with large print books and oversized puzzles that residents can read at the back table or do puzzles, or sit by the fireplace in the winter.

When we decorate the tree (artificial), we enlist all the residents to help, we are never short of volunteers to play Christmas songs on the piano while the residents sing their favorite carols, and we enjoy drinking cocoa, eating cookies and making merry as we reminisce on our favorite Christmas memories. We had a Jewish resident once, so we had a Jewish rabbi friend of mine, Kellie, come and talk to us about how to properly honor Hanukkah, and the other Jewish celebrations, especially Shabbat.

Our floors are carpeted as you can see, not plush so we reduce the risk of falling, but we picked a pretty pattern so it wouldn’t look drab. And speaking of safety, our kitchens have a microwave, stove/oven and a refrigerator.

We have a chef on staff for each of the 2 wings (one each) who comes in a mealtimes to cook. Residents may help if they like, but at not meal times, all the knobs on the stove are locked, the microwave is guarded by a code and the refrigerator also has a coded entrance.

All in all, we have done our best to structure our facility like a place that can become home for your loved one, and we hope to welcome them soon to Sunnyvale Memory Care, where a full sized bed will be waiting for them, and the brightly painted sunflower walls will invite their pictures, dressers will beckon their mementos and staff will be ready to build relationships and navigate the journey of dementia alongside your dear one with loving care and support.

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2 Comments

  1. Greg Smith

    Very good vision. I see things in this paper that are in Wm. Breman home, Hospice Atlanta, and KingsBridge. Also, some of the ideas in Being Mortal are incorporated in Sunny Vale. The one thing missing is a direct partnership with local congregations :). This paper didn’t give as much detail of the very important spiritual life of the residents as I prefer (but I’m biased.). Maybe next semester….. I should tell your prof this paper deserves an A+!! Keep writing, the world needs to hear this vision.

    1. sarainrealife

      Thanks! My time working at the Bremen Home spoiled me for other nursing homes. Their layout and visits to Sunrise shaped the architecture of Sunny Vale, and my class shaped the essentials of natural light, greenery and safety features. Given more time and space (read: for fun) I plan to play with it and see what my spiritual care department would look like :). Fingers still crossed that he will have mercy on me and open the portal for submission, or at least read what I sent him even though it was an email. I did a really good job on my final.

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