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Workers at New Wing to Make Best Friends with Alzheimer's Patients

San Juan Atria opens its doors to people suffering from dementia and seeks to keep them involved and connected.

broke a figurative ribbon this week on a multimillion-dollar wing that will serve people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Called a Life Guidance Memory Care Center, the wing is designed to prompt old memories and keep the residents stimulated and active, said Cynthia Lilly, National Life Guidance Program director for Atria Senior Living, which is based out of Louisville, KY.

“The environment is a social environment. Our residents have an opportunity to engage with each other each and every day,” she told a group of about 60 who visited Tuesday to toast the grand opening.

Activities will include dancing, cooking and community outreach efforts, whether it’s making “passports” for school children who visit or cooking for firefighters, Lilly said.

“We also want them to have a sense of purpose and to give back to the community. Occasionally, they’ll play bingo, but not so much,” she added.

Atria centers across the nation have adopted the “best friends” approach for Alzheimer’s patients advocated by David Troxel, who has written several books on the subject.  Not only did guests receive a copy of one of them, A Dignified Life, they also got to meet Troxel.

“The treatment for Alzheimer’s is engagement. It’s socialization,” Troxel told Patch.

With it being a decade since any new drugs have come to market, doctors and caregivers needed to come up with other options for keeping Alzheimer’s patients vibrant, he said.

Atria has incorporated these ideas into its new center, including “grab-and-go” baskets full of items of yesteryear that may spark a memory, such as an old-fashioned shower cap or vintage cooking utensils, Troxel said.

In front of each private residence – 24 single and three shared apartments – are built-in curio cabinets Atria calls “memory boxes,” where residents or their families can choose to showcase important mementos, said spokeswoman Michele Macmartin.

The "best friends" approach means just what it sounds like, said Carol Da Costa, Life Guidance director for San Juan Atria.

“We become best friends with our residents; we become best friends with their families and our staff is best friends with each other,” Da Costa said. “What they need most is security and safety,” and that happens when people “connect on a friendship basis.

“So every moment, you feel at ease,” she said.

Da Costa added that half of the population 85 years or older have Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia.

Other programs in town that serve Alzheimer’s include  and . 

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