The shared garden and entry at Keller Lake will allow residents to participate in universal gardening and cultural and physical movement activities. Courtesy Clark
Clark Retirement Community has unveiled a $3 million investment in its nationally recognized dementia care services, including an expansion of its Grand Rapids campus, extensive interior and exterior renovations and the introduction of a pioneering life-enrichment dementia care model.
While Clark residents living with dementia currently comprise a small percentage of its total 550 residents, the aging U.S. population is facing an ever-increasing number of individuals afflicted with dementia at the end of their lives.
Mention of “dementia” brings to mind Alzheimer’s, but the Alzheimer’s Association notes that Alzheimer’s is just one of more than 80 forms of dementia. However, it is top-of-mind because it is so prevalent; a new Alzheimer’s case is diagnosed every 67 seconds in the United States, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the country, with women at the epicenter of the epidemic, according to the association.
According to statistics supplied by Clark, more than 5 million Americans are currently living with the disease, and one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. In 2013, 15.5 million dementia patient caregivers provided an estimated 7.7 billion hours of unpaid care.
Clark’s announcement last week was at the groundbreaking of a 3,132-square-foot expansion of Clark’s southeast Grand Rapids campus at 1551 Franklin St. SE. The expansion is designed to provide larger gathering and dining spaces for residents living with dementia, as well as a new patio offering increased outdoor access. A state-of-the-art technology infrastructure to be installed at both Clark campuses will offer more flexible security options for residents living with dementia.
Another major new development is at Clark’s Keller Lake campus in Kentwood, 2499 Forest Hill Ave. SE. A 27,000-square-foot park-like setting is under development to offer residents living with dementia an opportunity to participate in universal gardening, and cultural and physical movement activities.
“Clark is at an exciting time in our 108-year history of taking another bold step forward in our specialized care for residents living with dementia,” said Brian Pangle, president and CEO.
“Our journey in bolstering dementia services began more than a decade ago. Today we are taking a giant leap forward by investing our energy, focus and resources to reshape the community conversation on person-directed care for individuals living with dementia.”
“We are on the cusp of an exciting shift in how we bolster care for individuals living with dementia, setting a new bar for the community,” said Dr. James Passinault, Clark’s medical director and a geriatric internist with Mercy Health. “We are redefining new care models for more engaging, meaningful and dignified person-directed care experiences.”
Clark was the first organization of its type in the country to have its dementia services accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities-Continuing Care Accreditation Commission. CARF-CACC is the nation’s major independent, nonprofit accreditor of health and human services organizations.
Clark is also the first continuing care retirement community in Michigan to offer its residents with dementia a computer program called It’s Never 2 Late. Adaptable to meet the needs and interests of residents, the program has cognitive therapy tools; virtual bike, flight and driving simulators; and interactive musical experiences and games.
Pangle said Clark now has a half-dozen large flat-screens so residents can interactively use It’s Never 2 Late to help them recall and reflect on their own life history and experiences.
On the screen could be images and sound of old TV commercials and shows, or popular music or movies the dementia patient would likely have seen or heard earlier in life. There are also images and documentaries about historical subjects such as the wars America has been involved in over the last 70 years. For World War II veterans in particular, seeing and hearing reminders of that era “really brings them alive,” according to Pangle.
The point is to provide dementia patients with visual and audio links to their past.
“What helps them really live today is to remember their history,” he said, and the remembering process provides “opportunities for exercising their brain.”
The flat-screens and computer program were made possible by a significant donation to Clark from an individual in the community. In fact, the Keller Lake property was actually a donation by Fred Keller Sr. many years ago, which highlights the support the organization gets from the community.
The Never 2 Late software requires the viewer to select what he or she wants to see, which further supports Clark’s “person-directed support” of dementia patients. “It allows them to choose what they want — not us choosing for them,” noted Pangle.
Clark is also increasing its team of life enrichment specialists who work with persons living with dementia and their families.
“It’s about treating the whole person and not just defining a person solely based on dementia,” said Chris Simons, Clark’s director of dementia services. “This is a cultural shift in dementia care, and we are thrilled to set a new bar in the local care-giving community.”
Clark’s dementia care offerings include its renowned Friends Swim Program, music therapy, woodworking, gardening, sewing and technology tools to enhance cognitive abilities.
The organization also has launched a new partnership with the Franciscan Life Process Center in Lowell, which brings group and individual music therapies directly to residents, focusing on storytelling, repetition, relaxation and reminiscing, reducing anxiety and enhancing an individual’s quality of life.
Pangle said Clark’s assisted living and skilled nursing environments were established many years ago under the old health care model.
“We’re changing all that, so that today it’s really meant to be like home. We want this environment to mirror and mimic what residents experienced in their own home as they grew up and aged from childhood to adulthood to now, what we call elderhood.”
Pangle said the cost of living at one of the Clark facilities ranges from about $500 a month for the most independent living situation up to several thousand dollars in the skilled nursing program where the residents require care 24/7.
Clark’s dementia care investment is made possible by its Vibrant Community Capital Campaign, a $7.5 million investment to enhance Clark’s overall facilities, programs and services.
Dr. G. Allen Power, an international expert on person-directed dementia care, maintains “there is life after diagnosis; the person is not fading away, and it is possible to maintain well-being in spite of challenging cognitive abilities.”
“I applaud Clark’s efforts in moving to a person-directed care module. While we hope to provide better treatments, there is a pressing need to provide meaningful lives for the millions of people who live with dementia today,” he added.
Clark Retirement Community was founded in 1906, and has a full complement of services and residential options including independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, plus off-site services including home health and hospice.