By Jane Adler, Special to the Tribune
February 1, 2013
Every day at 3 p.m., Jim Copenhaver visits his 80-year-old wife, Ann, who lives at an assisted-living facility in Vernon Hills for those with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
"It's the highlight of my day," said Jim Copenhaver, 87, who helps feed her at dinner.
Ann has Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia. Her condition has worsened over the years, and she no longer talks. Jim isn't sure his wife still recognizes him, but, he says cheerfully, "There's a feeling between us."
For many years, he took care of his wife at home. When she was first diagnosed with the disease 12 years ago, Jim hired a caretaker to visit the house once a week and help out. As the disease progressed, Ann attended a day program for seniors with memory loss. In 2010, the couple moved to a retirement community so they could stay together, but that arrangement only lasted five weeks because Ann started to wander.
Jim and the couple's daughters decided to move Ann to Autumn Leaves of Vernon Hills, which provides specially trained staff and activities geared toward residents with dementia. She can walk around inside the building and stay safe.
"It's such a relief to me that she's there," he said. "There is no way I could care for her on my own."
Memory loss is associated with dementia, a decline in mental ability. Dementia has a variety of causes, but about 60 to 80 percent of the cases are from Alzheimer's disease.
The number of people affected by the disease is staggering. One in 8 older Americans have Alzheimer's disease, according to the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association. The disease is most common among the oldest seniors. About 45 percent of those 85 and older have Alzheimer's disease.
As the huge baby boomer population ages, the number of people with Alzheimer's disease will rise dramatically. It's expected that up to 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer's disease by 2050.
Many people with memory problems live at home or with relatives. But as the number of those with memory loss grows, other housing options are becoming widely available to meet their needs.
Some senior living facilities offer apartments designated for dementia sufferers, while others are converting traditional assisted living or nursing care units into memory care apartments.
Last fall, Lexington Square, a senior living development in Lombard, converted 69 assisted-living units to memory care. The Abington, a nursing home in Glenview, recently renovated its dementia care wing, adding common and activity areas specifically for those with memory impairment.
New stand-alone memory care facilities are also being built. About 4,000 memory care units are under construction nationwide, according to the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry. The Chicago area has more than 300 memory care units under way.
Last March, Monica Fohrman moved her mother to North Grove Manor, a new memory care building in Morton Grove. Her mother had been living in a retirement community but was struggling.
"It was getting harder and harder for her to do little things," Fohrman said. Her mother also experienced social pressures because she couldn't hold a conversation with other residents. "My mother felt left out," Fohrman said.
Fohrman knew her mother's living arrangement wasn't working, so she toured several assisted-living facilities and selected North Grove Manor because of its memory care unit.
"The staff is trained to handle memory problems," Fohrman said. "All the residents are like my mom."
North Grove Manor was developed by CRL Senior Living Communities, which recently opened another new memory care building, Arbor Ridge, in Highland Park.
Other developers have projects in the works. A new assisted-living facility in Northbrook will include a floor for those with memory loss. The five-story building, North Shore Place, will be near the Chicago Botanic Garden. The project by Senior Lifestyle Corporation of Chicago should begin construction this spring.
Plans were announced in December to build an $11.1 million Autumn Leaves memory care facility in South Barrington. Autumn Leaves has a project under way in Bolingbrook in addition to existing developments in Vernon Hills, Orland Park, Crystal Lake, St. Charles and Oswego.
Staying in a memory care facility is expensive, typically about $4,000 to $6,000 a month. It can be a heavy burden for families, especially because Medicare doesn't cover the cost. Some residents have long-term care insurance, but many families chip in to cover the expense, or the seniors' savings are used to pay the bill.
Illinois has four facilities that provide memory care services for low-income seniors and accept Medicaid. Two of the buildings are in the Chicago area, in North Aurora and South Elgin.
Memory care facilities are designed to accommodate the special behavioral needs of residents. Apartments are typically clustered in groups of 10 to 14 residents, which often share common areas such as activity rooms or a big country kitchen where residents can gather and participate in comforting activities, such as baking cookies. People with memory loss can be overwhelmed by large groups, experts say.
Open floor plans help residents navigate the environment, according to James Moyer, partner at SAS Architects & Planners in Northbrook. The firm designs senior housing projects, including memory care facilities. Long corridors with rooms on either side are to be avoided, he said. A circular design is preferred because residents who wander don't reach a dead end. The layout should also include destinations, such as a reading alcove with a view of the outside.
Memory care facilities usually offer private and shared rooms. Moyer says the units are about the size of a studio apartment. Most include a bathroom. "The idea is to get the residents out of their rooms so they can participate in activities," he said.
A typical day in a memory care program depends on the resident. Those in the early stages of dementia participate in a variety of activities, from yoga to gardening. Residents with later stages of the disease often enjoy music or a massage.
"We join their journey," said Kelly Scott, vice president of program development and innovation at Emeritus Assisted Living. The staff designs a program for the resident based on his or her abilities at the time, said Scott, who is based in the company's Chicago office.
Emeritus has assisted-living facilities nationwide, including buildings with memory care wings in Orland Park and Hoffman Estates. Emeritus also has a stand-alone memory care building in Joliet.
Living arrangements often change as the resident's condition worsens.
Cheryl Buzil's father, Irv Lazar, lives at Belmont Village, an assisted-living facility in Buffalo Grove that offers memory care. When he moved to the building three years ago, he lived in the assisted-living section but participated in a daily program designed for those with memory loss. But his dementia worsened and he recently moved to a secured section of the building after a staff evaluation.
"At first, I was resistant to the move," said Buzil, who worried about her father being locked up. But he has adjusted well to his new environment, she said.
The memory unit has additional staff members, and the rooms and common areas are nice, she said, no different from other parts of the building.
"He's comfortable and well cared for," said Buzil, who visits five days a week.
Relatives often feel some relief after loved ones with memory problems move to settings meant for them. Worry no longer consumes Jim Copenhaver, who focuses on the good times. He recalls how his wife loved to travel and dance, and the wonderful experience the couple had when they lived in England for two years.
"I have great memories," he said.
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