A senior housing operator approached me recently about endorsing his
Anne Ellett, NP, MSN, Dementia Specialist
new memory care development. It sounded lovely—he said it was designed to feel like a neighborhood—the residents living with dementia could wander down the street to visit friends and partake in different activities going on throughout the neighborhood. He spoke of the effort and expense put into the design with the goal of offering the residents more choice and access to real experiences.
When I visited, however, it felt a little eerie. It wasn’t a street, but rather an indoor lobby and hallway area with facades from the 50s and 60s. Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” played over the hidden speakers and there were framed posters of Jackie Kennedy and Dean Martin on the walls. Residents could wander from the old-fashioned soda counter to the baby-doll room with bassinets and doll clothes to the plastic bowling pins set up at the end of the hallway. Pretend mailboxes were placed along the hallway.
Residents were playing pool, and few more sat around watching them. Female residents were encouraged to go into the doll room and hold the dolls or write postcards to put in the mailboxes. The tour guide said that the families were thrilled there was such a nice place for their loved ones with dementia to live.
While I can appreciate the desire to create a nice environment for people living with dementia, I challenge us to spend our time—as well as creative expertise and even money—toward offering real experiences and real life.
If we offer props or facades of the real thing, aren’t we assuming that a person living with dementia won’t know the difference? That they are incapable of participating in real relationships and real experiences? What if we instead invest our time and financial resources toward offering real life—wouldn’t that offer more dignity?
There is a lovely video of a memory care community in Australia known as Starrett Lodge. This short film, entitled, “Finding the Why; Enabling Active Participation in Life in Aged Care,” shows great examples of real experiences and real engagements for people living with dementia.
If you are interested in hearing more about this topic, I will present a webinar that addresses the issues of “real vs. fake” on April 9 for The Green House Project. You can register for it here: HERE.
Let’s offer real life, and the belief that people living with dementia can participate, can contribute, and can enjoy real experiences.