Residents can rock in wicker gliders on the wing’s indoor front porch. They can catch reruns of vintage TV shows in the living room.
They eat their meals family-style in a room that looks a lot like a regular kitchen/dining room, albeit with a few more tables. They can meander outside in the courtyard, set a spell in a swing and check the mailbox.
“This is what I’ve always dreamt a nursing home could be,” said Mary Birkholz, Alzheimer’s care director for Beverly Health Center.
The doors leading outside the wing are locked with code pads, but within the wing and its courtyard, the residents can come and go, Birkholz said.
“They’re free,” Birkholz said.
The environment in the wing is designed to be soothing and familiar, like home. Pictures on the wall depict trains, puppy dogs and landscapes.
At the doors to each semi-private rooms, shadow boxes are waiting to be filled with personal mementos.
“Everything has a purpose,” Birkholz said.
The new wing has room for 28 residents with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The staff was moving in six residents from other parts of the Amory facility this past week, Birkholz said.
Already 12 others from outside the facility are on a waiting list, Birkholz said. They will get the green light to move in after Beverly completes the final stages of the licensure process.
The state of Mississippi currently has 8 facilities licensed to provide special Alzheimer’s care wings, said David Buchanan, director of the office of licensure with the state Department of Health.
“The Alzheimer’s designation always provides a greater level of care and services for those residents,” Buchanan said.
The state requires more staff for Alzheimer’s units than regular population wings in nursing homes, Birkholz said.
Mary Dorris, who founded the First Friends Alzheimer’s day care program and helped bring a chapter office of the Mississippi Alzheimer’s Association to Amory, said she is impressed with plans for the new wing and the enthusiasm of the staff.
“It’s very, very nice,” Dorris said. “It’s a really homey atmosphere.”
The unit provides a safety net for families dealing with Alzheimer’s, Dorris said. If the time comes that they can no longer care for a family member at home, they have an option close by.
“It’s comforting to have it here,” said Dorris, who cares for her husband, Hopson, who has Alzheimer’s.
The physical environment is important, but it will be the interaction with staff and daily activities that are at the heart of new wing’s existence.
“We’re focusing on their strengths and abilities to set them up for success,” Birkholz said.
The residents will be divided into small groups for programming activities throughout the day.
“Everything is an activity,” including getting dressed, Birkholz said. “We’re going to stop doing things for them and start doing things with them.”
The activities will be designed around normal activities like reading the paper. Instead of having their plates served for them, the residents will pass bowls around the tables and serve themselves, Birkholz said.
A basket of clothes and feather dusters will be set out so those with a yen for house work can putter.
For people with backgrounds in business, Birkholz is bring in an adding machine that will be placed at a desk in the living room.
“We’re going to pull from their past life experiences,” to tailor the activities, Birkholz said
On some days, the residents may help prepare their own dessert, like apple crisps and cakes.
“That’s great sensory stimulation,” Birkholz said.
The Alzheimer’s wing staff at Beverly is already pulling together. Everyone on the wing from Birkholz to the housekeeper have gone through specific training for Alzheimer’s patients.
“Everybody programs (activities),” Birkholz said. “Everybody’s cross trained. We’re so lucky with our staff.”