Silent night …

Memory care is an around-the-clock, every-day-of-the year commitment

— Photo by Marlys Barker for the Daily Freeman-Journal
Almeda Warner (right) checks in with Marissa Twedt between shifts in the Windsor Manor memory care unit in Nevada. Warner is a regular overnight worker and feels that her position is a way of "giving back" to those in her care.

NEVADA – Traditions, and more specifically memories, are what make the holidays, especially Christmas, such a special time of year.

That in mind, Almeda Warner, a Windsor Manor caregiver in Nevada, cannot help but be honest. “It’s just not fair. I just don’t understand,” she said, about why some people must suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease as they age.

In the still of the night, which is the shift Warner works (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.), she admits that her thoughts are sometimes as deep as the darkness outside.

“God and I have had the best conversations that I’ve ever had at night.”

Warner, 73, works exclusively in “The Gardens” – which is what Windsor Manor facilities in Iowa and Illinois call the secured units where they care for and protect those with severe dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease.

“This work is really important to me,” said Warner. Because God spared everyone in her family from the tragedy of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, Warner sees her work as a caregiver as “my way of giving back.”

As she arrives at work on a recent December night, Warner heads right to the kitchen counter of The Gardens, where a large three-ring binder contains notes from the day about each of the residents in the 10-person unit.

“Oh no…,” she comments as she reads that one of the residents has been pretty quiet all day. “I worry about her, she’s such an itty, bitty little thing.”

After reading all the notes and visiting a few minutes with the caregiver from the previous shift, Warner makes an initial round to each room and looks in to be sure each resident is O.K. It’s quiet in the main living area that surrounds the individual rooms. A television, with the volume turned down low, serves as a bit of extra light, along with the colorful lights on several Christmas trees.

Warner’s voice can be heard talking to one resident as she makes her way into a room at the far end of the living area. Some like to sit up and watch their TV into the late-night hours, she explained. Some may sleep for a while and be up for a while during the overnight hours.

“On a good night, maybe three of them will sleep through the night,” she said. If they awake to use the restroom or awake wanting to talk to someone or be comforted, Warner is there with her loving voice and soothing hugs.

Appreciating the care

Many families, who have experienced watching a loved one suffer from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease know that the only way they can finally have a “good night’s sleep” is to put their loved one into a specialized care facility.

John Valline, and his wife Di, who live at Nevada know first-hand the difficulty of watching a family member fall out of the reality they’ve always known and into another realm.

John’s father, Bill, who passed away last month, had lived in The Gardens of Windsor Manor for several months before his death. Today, the Vallines are nothing but thankful for the care that Bill received from people like Warner.

Not only did having their father at Windsor Manor’s Garden allow John and Di peace of mind, but it also brought peace to Bill’s wife, Millie, who still lives in her home in Ames at age 90.

What started three or so years ago with his dad repeating things over and over, often within the same conversation, led to bouts of stubbornness where Bill would put off personal hygiene matters, like bathing, for days and then weeks at a time. If a family member tried to suggest that he take care of himself, John said, “he got mad.”

It was a difficult thing for John to watch. Seeing this man, who had always been sharp as a tack, becoming a very different person was gut-wrenching. Not to mention how hard it was to see his mother struggle with this as well.

With the help of a good friend, they got Bill to Windsor Manor, and while John was in the director’s office signing papers for his dad’s room, the staff had caringly and professionally taken his father to the memory care unit.

“Immediately he started to get the care he needed,” John said.

His wife nodded in agreement. “They always seemed to know what he needed here like they had a sense about it.”

Touch of Grace

Having a sense of what memory care patients need is an integral part of the philosophy that guides memory care and assisted living caregivers in Windsor Manor’s eight Iowa and one Illinois facilities. The “Touch of Grace” principles employed are all about paying attention to the “sensations” that long endure in the recesses of the human mind.

“We believe that keeping aging loved ones active in hobbies and interests that have given them pleasure in the past, is important as they age and especially after disease diagnosis,” said Susan Foster, Chief Operating Officer for Foster Senior Living, the management company of Windsor Manor.

Windsor Manor seeks to engage the five senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch through its activity programming, both in the regular assisted living environment and in The Gardens of each facility.

Maddie Mitchell, the primary daytime memory care worker in Nevada, like those responsible in other Windsor Manor facilities, has a calendar outlining many activities that will happen each day in the memory care unit. At holiday time, there is a multitude of opportunities to engage the senses – tasting favorite holiday treats, helping prepare something to bake, writing out cards, decorating the Christmas tree … and the list goes on.

Among the goals of the Touch of Grace philosophy are stirring positive memories from the past, making emotional connections with others, encouraging self-expression, lessening anxiety and irritability, engaging with life, and communicating in a calming manner. Important in the lives of all senior residents, these factors become even more important for those with memory impairment.

Blessed to be of service

Warner admits, working in memory care isn’t for everybody, and may not have been (right) for her when she was younger. “Had I started this when I was young, I couldn’t have done it. I had to get to an age and experience life’s difficulties to understand.”

She commends her much younger counterpart, Mitchell, for taking to memory care “like a duck takes to water.” It truly takes an exceptional young person to do well in this career, Warner believes.

As for herself, Warner feels blessed to be caring for Windsor Manor’s memory-impaired residents. She’s had other jobs in her life — many years being a beautician and some years in retail — but she’s never had a position where she felt more needed.

A resident is stirring, and Warner immediately is on her feet, heading to their room. “Hi darlin’,” she says in a soft voice. “How can I help you?” And then she disappears behind the door to assist with what is needed.

This holiday season, Warner would urge everyone to think just a little bit about any interaction they might have with a memory care patient, whose connection to the past is often silenced by their disease. “We who can walk out the front door, don’t realize how much a simple gesture — a smile, holding someone’s hand, listening to what they have to say — can mean,” she said. “These people worked hard during their lifetimes. They deserve the best that we can give them, absolutely the best.”