Remembering Alzheimer’s

Where do I begin?—the frightful question people ask themselves when they first hear the diagnosis of the disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “5.4 million American’s are living with Alzheimer’s disease today. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.” Now, more than ever, researchers are striving for a cure and hoping to find treatments that help slow the process of the disease.

With any incurable disease, there are two important questions to consider: What is being done to treat the disease and what is being done to treat the patient? Although research for a cure is crucial, we need to be mindful of those 5.4 million that might never see the day of an effective treatment. Alzheimer’s disease is significantly different from others; it is not only the patient in need of treatment, but the family members of that patient as well. It is our goal at Kirby Pines to help treat the patient and family with the best of our knowledge to accomplish peace of mind.

Kirby Pines Retirement Community in Memphis, Tenn., is the largest retirement community in the mid-South. Situated on 50 acres, it includes assisted living, nursing home, independent living and upscale Alzheimer’s memory care. Our residents with Alzheimer’s live in an 18,000-sq.-ft. home called Job’s Way. The name was chosen to remind us to have the patience of Job as we work with our residents. The unique circular facility is designed to minimize confusion and frustration as residents move about during their daily activities. Job’s Way features shadow boxes outside each resident’s room, a transparent refrigerator door to promote hydration, and a dayroom with activities that help trigger the activation of the residents’ life memories. Because of the design details, Job’s Way is Kirby Pines’ award-winning Alzheimer’s and dementia residence—winner of more than six national and international awards.

Although Kirby Pines is fond of our Job’s Way establishment, the concern of one family member made us realize the pretentiousness of believing we had achieved perfection. This family member wanted to feel more connected to her love one, to have more knowledge of the disease, and to have more support in her current situation. This concern helped broaden our dimensions of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and revisiting the two questions concerning this incurable disease. We are now currently developing ways to improve the latter—treatment for the patient, as well as the family. As our family member expressed her desire of contentment, it became apparent that she was not alone in these concerns.

Staff and residents complete a puzzle, creating a comfortable environment. (Photo: Gary Culley Studios)

As a part of our continued focus on quality initiatives, we are working to provide a stronger sense of unity and comfort. Residents’ family members and the staff have partnered to develop a connection group called “Let’s Get Connected!!” This group offers family members of Job’s Way residents the opportunity to provide input, contribute to new developments and socialize with each other to foster a sense of family. It is designed to benefit residents as well as family members. There are many great accomplishments that have accrued from this connection group.

The “Let’s Get Connected!!” group gave input concerning the outline of our new Service Plan, which consists of a questionnaire for family members including questions about lifestyle, habits, pet peeves, behavior and other aspects about their resident’s life prior to joining the Job’s Way family.  The group was able to give insight for the lifestyle details they would want a caregiver to know about their family member, as if never having met them. This questionnaire is designed to relay information from family members to the Job’s Way staff before the resident’s move-in day, allowing staff to objectively adapt to the resident’s lifestyle, which decreases residents’ concerns of adapting to a new home.

Another improvement that sprouted from our connection group was to customize the soft music that plays throughout Job’s Way. Our Service Plan now includes questions about music genre, sound level and favorite melodies. Finally, when asked what would be a positive addition for Job’s Way programs to create unity, the family connection group provided three suggestions.

  1. Support. It was suggested that it would be beneficial to be able to contact other family members so they can communicate about their loved ones on days when they cannot visit.
  2. Connection.Families want to know and become familiar with each staff member of Job’s Way.
  3. Knowledge.A few fairly new members of “Let’s Get Connected!!” offered a suggestion to ease the transition. They stated that it would be helpful to know more information about the operations and daily activities of Job’s Way before move-in day. Family and staff directories, as well as a Welcome Guide that includes the activities, salon hours, and more, are now under way at Kirby Pines.

One final improvement evolved from simple discussion. One of our resident’s daughters said that during the connection group meeting, “People assume just because our mother or father has Alzheimer’s that we know all about the disease, but we don’t. It’s kind of scary actually.” This statement triggered the idea of an informational “Seminar Series” for Job’s Way family members. In our planning, we are scheduling multiple speakers for various topics such as: How the resident moves into the stages of dementia, current treatment plans, reliable research implications, understanding and adapting to behavioral changes and how to cope. We believe it is important for the families of our Job’s Way residents to have the necessary tools to keep connected to their loved one.

At Kirby Pines, we believe it is just as important to treat the resident as it is to treat the disease. Alzheimer’s is distinguished from other diseases by its special need to care for the family members as well. “Let’s Get Connected!!” encourages family members to contribute to new developments as well as create a sense of “family” with their new community. “Two heads are always better than one,” says Annette Marlar, director of Medical Services. “It is when people come together that great things happen. They look to us to help them map out their future, connecting the dots of concern as we go along.”        

Kymberly Inman works at Kirby Pines and is supervised on research projects and at Job’s Way events by Annette Marlar, Director of Medical Services. For more information, email or visit

Topics: Alzheimer's/Dementia , Articles , Facility management