Meadow Place Focus On Alzheimers

September 12, 2003
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BYRON CENTER — From a layman's perspective, Jean Van Den Beldt says one of the major problems in the life of an Alzheimer's patient is lack of mental stimulation.

She's personally and intimately acquainted with the issue because her mother, Johanne Cook, is an Alzheimer's disease sufferer — and the walking, living inspiration for the Cook family to build a facility dedicated to the care of Alzheimer's sufferers.

The facility — called Meadow Place — opened in June, and Van Den Beldt administers it as well as Byron Center Manor to which Meadow Place is an adjunct.

Van Den Beldt told the Business Journal that Alzheimer's patients not only undergo the emotional turmoil that comes with degenerating memory, but that their turmoil often also tends to make them become reclusive and their relatives often unwittingly abet the tendency.

Thus, she said, she feels Alzheimer's patients also unconsciously become burdened with the secondary effects of boredom, depression and lack of purpose — not to mention the confusion and panic that often afflicts people as the disease progresses.

But Van Den Beldt said that's not the case with 40 permanent residents and 30 patients who are the recipients of daytime respite services at Meadow Place.

"We have socialization and stimulation," she said.

"I'm not a medical professional," she stressed, "but I have the impression that Alzheimer's patients do better — that perhaps they tend to retain memory longer — when things are interesting and stimulating for them, and when they can see new faces and when they're in a homelike atmosphere."

The impression, she said, is based on her mother's 15-year history with Alzheimer's. "I think this kind of stimulation and socialization has helped her greatly."

One of the key stimulants now working at Meadow Place, she said, is a staff member named Moose, who's well trained even though he also is not a medical professional.

Moose is a wagging golden retriever who's always seeking a head rub and a back scratch from any resident or visitor who's willing to accept a lick or two in payment.

Moose, she said, is a four-legged amenity that would have been unthinkable at most of the places she and her family visited when seeking a home for her mother after Alzheimer's began attacking her memory.

At the time, the Cook family — which also operates funeral homes in Byron Center, Clarksville, Grandville, Jenison and Lake Odessa — was in the process of building Byron Center Manor, an independent and assisted living center.

"When she was diagnosed with AD," Van Den Beldt said, " we looked far and wide for a home to match her physical, emotional and lifestyle needs.

"Nothing fit," she added. "So we built one not only for my mom but for the many families in West Michigan caring for loved ones with AD."

She said Meadow Place — located at 2115 84th St. in Byron Center, three miles west of U.S. 131 — is a comprehensive care center. She explained that it maintains a 1-7 ratio of staff to residents during daytime hours and a 1-10 ratio at night. She said the respective state requirements are 1-to-10 and 1-to-20.

Meadow Place is not a wing of Byron Center Manor, but a separate facility on the Manor campus.

Van Den Beldt said Meadow Place's design is focused entirely on the problems of people suffering Alzheimer's and is a result of visiting many other institutions in the region.

The design of the facility deliberately downgrades institutional characteristics. It has no long corridors. Too, she said, rooms are not numbered, but identifiable by memory boxes in which patients display their own keepsakes.

"We've tried to make it intimate rather than institutional," she said. "It captures the spirit of home with amenities and services ranging from home-cooked meals and housekeeping to dry cleaning and (from) pharmacy deliveries to social activities.

"Residents even have access to a physician who will conduct office visits in the privacy of their own rooms.

"Meadow Place is a family-run facility where people are treated like family," she added.

The memory box keepsakes that identify rooms, she added, serve an important purpose because they have a way of jogging memory.

Alzheimer's disease doesn't always roll back memory in a smooth wave. A sufferer, for instance, might not be able to identify a visiting relative. But often an AD patient can mentally recover the visitor's identity, and a flood of associated memories, when coming at it via a different association such as a keepsake, or a traditional family saying.

Van Den Beldt explained that the 40,000-square-foot building was designed with padded walkways for safe, free exploring. Its windows are placed to allow observation by staff members without intrusion. Too, natural and artificial light is placed to minimize shadows that can be disorienting and even frightening.

Meadow Place also has an open floor plan that keeps the use of walls to a minimum.

Residents have home furnishings in private rooms equipped with secure wardrobes, toiletry cabinets and windows. Rooms have neutral decor to encourage residents to tailor their quarters to their personal taste.

Van Den Beldt said Meadow Place's common areas were designed to be homelike with fireplaces, skylights, plants and non-institutional furniture — and Moose.

Residents also have access to an in-house beauty and barber shop, kitchen, tub room, library, sitting areas and a divisible activity room in the adult day services wing.

Secure outdoor courtyards and raised perennial garden beds frame the Meadow Place grounds, where residents are encouraged to explore the gardens, if they wish.

Wh

ile Van Den Beldt administers Byron Center Manor and Meadow Place, her brothers — Fred, Brad and Lee — focus on the operations of the Cook Funeral Homes.           

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