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Delivering a successful model of memory care

January 24, 2012
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Since joining Long-Term Living, I’ve had my share of SNF and senior living site visits. Typically, I see the best of the best, as I’m often invited to cover innovative care models and environments for aging. These owners and operators are eager to show off their facilities. I’m no Pollyanna, though. I have a mentally ill sister who for a time was institutionalized in a facility from the Victorian era—with remnants of Victorian-era care. My grandmother’s nursing home experience could only be described as grim. Friends and strangers alike, when they hear what I do for a living, are quick to share their own—often negative—experiences.

So when I do come across a positive story—and there are many—I’m eager to share it and promote the positive things being done by forward-thinking professionals. Last week, Loren Shook, president and CEO of Silverado Senior Living, gave me and other attendees of an executive workshop on the business of memory care a tour of his company’s San Juan Capistrano, Calif., facility for dementia care. Shook is a dynamic advocate for compassionate, person-centered care with innovative programs and service. He’s a savvy businessman, too, acknowledging that economic rewards follow from quality service.

Silverado promotes some great programs, like pet therapy (dogs and cats have the run of the place); intergenerational activities (there’s a cheerful playground on site); and free meals for visitors. Snacks and beverages are placed on tables throughout the facility to encourage frequent nibbling and hydration. Lighting is soft and warm—to ease the aged eye. Beautiful wood “memory boxes” front each resident’s room, filled with photos and mementos to spark memories and remind caregivers and visitors of the very real person that lives there.

Teddy bears and baby dolls are forbidden in residents’ rooms, says Shook, unless the resident had been an adult collector prior to moving into the community. He finds the practice infantilizing. Instead, a photo collage of the resident’s life is mounted on the wall over each resident’s bed, to again remind caregivers and residents alike of their identities. Shook says this practice also serves as a precautionary measure; overstressed caregivers engaged in the very tough work of caring for the memory impaired will be less likely to inflict harm on a resident when given a visual cue of their humanity.

Doors throughout the facility remain unlocked—again, to facilitate resident freedom and choice. It’s a practice that demands more mindfulness on the part of caregivers. “We take risks that many in this industry are unwilling to do,” says Shook. “And, if you engage people in activities they won’t typically wander.”


Patricia Sheehan

Patricia Sheehan


Patricia Sheehan wrote for Long-Term Living when she was editor-in-chief. She left that...