Dec 07, 2021

The house residents living with dementia can visit to maintain meaning and purpose

Dementia home
Resident Gloria told HelloCare she particularly enjoys the gardens and cooking. (Photo: Supplied)

Residents at the adjacent facility, most of whom are living with dementia, can now visit the house-next-door’s familiar home-like environment whenever they like. It’s just a mere 100-metre stroll away.

Colin McDonnell, Calvary Care’s dementia and wellbeing consultant, told HelloCare the house contains a lounge room, TV room, kitchen, laundry and garden, and every room is equipped with all the tools and equipment they would contain in a regular home – such as a washing machine, ironing board, TV, garden tools and a fully equipped kitchen. 

The residents come into the home and they can generally be autonomous. They might cook, or choose to do some ironing. They might do some weeding in the garden, or put on a load of washing.

Back at the aged care home, tools and equipment are put away. 

“You won’t find a broom anywhere, or a vacuum cleaner. You won’t find anything to go and help get the weeds out.

“But you put them in a normal home-like environment and they do everything. 

“The men do the gardening and help with a bit of cooking. And the ladies do the cooking when they want to, and some wash and put the clothes on the line. 

“It’s meaningful and engaging, and it’s natural and normal – you never forget it. [The memories of how to perform those tasks are] stuck in your memory forever, like riding a bike or tying your shoelaces.”

Staff may have to help with some steps, to keep the task going, but the residents continue and complete their work.

The home is “absolutely beautiful” and uses best-practice design, Colin McDonnell, Calvary Care’s dementia and wellbeing consultant, said. (Photo: Supplied)

What are implicit memories?

‘Implicit memories’ are memories often created early in life that do not require conscious recollection. Sweeping the floor, folding the laundry, and peeling and cutting up food to be cooked are examples of simple tasks that might be embedded as implicit memories.

Tasks that require implicit memory can be performed without thinking, the actions they govern are built into our cognition, often from an early age. 

Even as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, tasks that require implicit thinking can continue to be performed, even to quite advanced stages of the disease.

In some cases prompting will assist the person to start, and steps can be outlined, like a recipe for cooking, which helps to keep them on track.

It was in the knowledge that people living with dementia can remember how to perform daily tasks, that when the house next door to Calvary Cessnock Retirement Community came up for sale, the management team had an interesting idea. 

What if they bought the house, allowed the residents to visit, and enabled them to perform simple daily tasks and chores as they had done earlier in their lives?

“They also have an oven and kitchen and an island bench at different heights where the people in wheelchairs can sit,” explained Mr McDonnell. (Photo: Supplied)

‘They do all sorts of chores they have done all their lives’

The home is “absolutely beautiful” and uses best-practice design, Mr McDonnell said.

“They’ve got a garden, which is designed to positively affect the senses, and imaginative installations for them to be engaged with. 

“They also have an oven and kitchen and an island bench at different heights where the people in wheelchairs can sit. 

“Now they eat out, they can eat wherever they want, they can eat in front of the TV if they want to.” 

“Before they would sit in front of the TV. They would never go outside. Or they would walk around and around in circles.”

With the help of the University of Newcastle, the Calvary team has designed programs that help residents use the equipment. For example, in the kitchen, staff put cooking ingredients in coloured containers so that the residents just have to put everything together, mix it, put it in the oven and remove it when cooked.

The residents have chef’s aprons and caps and protective gloves.

“They do everything,” Mr McDonnell said.

In a stroke of luck, a kindergarten is located nearby and will be visiting regularly. In collaboration with the University of Newcastle, Calvary will be designing programs suitable for both the children and the people living with dementia to ensure both groups have meaningful interactions.

Since resident Gloria has been able to visit the house and use the gardens, her wellbeing has improved significantly. (Photo: Supplied)

‘I went and sat in the sun’

Resident Gloria has had three strokes and is living with dementia. She used to spend most of her time watching television and was apathetic, said Mr McDonnell. But since she has been able to visit the house and use the gardens, her wellbeing has improved significantly.

Gloria explained she wasn’t saying exactly what she wanted to when she spoke to HelloCare, but she was expressive and clearly engaged with everything going on at the facility.

She told HelloCare she particularly enjoys the gardens and cooking.

She cooks using recipes from memory, and attends meetings to plan activities.

She particularly enjoys a garden where fellow residents bring ornaments in memory of past residents or relatives who have died.

As we speak she is calm but animated. It’s clear she’s enjoying living in the relaxed home-like environment and the everyday activities she can get involved in.

Mr McDonnell said when aged care facilities are too risk-averse and don’t provide residents with activities that are meaningful or give them purpose, it takes away the resident’s reason for being.

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  1. This is fantastic 👏 congratulations to all your team. I wish more of this could happen in other facilities.

  2. We are stuck, the people with dementia are still people who know how to do things and enjoy life. It is those who want to put them in a slot and leave them there.
    The whole aging process needs a serious reboot and I hope we can make that happen before the rest of us need some help; note not put away but need some help that’s all.
    I read recently a discussion about what LTC is like for those who work in it. The leader of the paper is a notable academic but for thise who know LTC especially those working in it, could have told this academic what the problems are. It can be dangerous to put someone in charge of something when they neglect to ask those who work in the area of study. So note to others- if you want to improve LTC ask those who work in it and those who live in it. Then implement those changes. What was described here is called social care needs as one can see these people with dementia are not complex medical cases and they deserve to live a normal life like everyone else with assistance when needed and otherwise just stand by as needed. It would be a superior change to to constant need to drug people because you have taken everything away from them that they know.

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