By Julie Fernandez, Executive Director

If you have ever been involved in the assisted living industry in the greater Orlando, FL area, we’ve probably met.  I’ve worked for you or with you; hired you or let you go; shared happy stories and many tears.  After over 20 years in the business of assisted living, chances are very good that I’ve cared for someone you know or love. The possibility that our paths have crossed is very, very good.

I am a professional caregiver. My focus of care throughout the years has been caring for those living with a diagnosis of memory loss, primarily those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the very ugly of what this industry does to caregivers and to those we care for, both directly and indirectly. What I’ve never seen throughout these many years is an assisted living facility that provides more than three meals a day and assistance with activities of daily living. A place where people come to flourish and where their future is not one of sadness and loss but of purpose and meaning. I’ve never seen this that is, until now. Because, now I work for Serenades by Sonata Memory Care Assisted Living by Sonata Health Care. And Sonata Health Care has figured out a way to do it right.

Building a Better Box

A building is just a box.  It can be a big box or a small box. It can sit on a city street or be the house next door. Some are shiny and pretty, some, well not so much. What the box typically never is though, is designed for those who will reside and work there. Just like everyone else who works, the majority of our waking hours are spent in the “box” where we work. So, it’s about time that those building these communities ask those who work in them for their input of what these “boxes” should look like; what they should feel like; how they should be built to make a difference in the lives of the people who will live (and work!) in them.

Studies show that good design leads to a better quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Can architecture and interior design really play a role in helping these individuals’ lives by enhancing their sense of dignity and self-esteem? Can a “box” be built that will create an atmosphere that is supportive and promotes independence while providing a peaceful, secure, and familiar home? Yes, it can. And I’m seeing this transformation in the residents at Serenades every day. It is life-changing.

Serenades’ purpose-built design is a result of a collaborative effort between memory care design AND operational professionals. The primary objective was to create a community that successfully integrates the principles of person-directed care and creates an environment that facilitates and promotes empowering staff and building partnerships with families.

Wide Open Spaces Engage Wellness

People with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia are challenged by large, unstructured spaces that have a high quantity or unpredictable number of people sharing the space.  A successful physical plant, or the architectural portion of a resident-care environment, consists of well-developed neighborhood floor plans that create opportunities for residents with dementia to engage and succeed. The successful environment will operationally and architecturally encourage residents to use their retained abilities by maximizing ease in finding their way, familiarity and their feeling of freedom and control, while reducing opportunities for failure and feeling of confinement.

In fact, recent studies have shown that the environment strongly influences the behavior of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease because their diminished memory and reasoning capacities cause them to respond more intensively to the immediate environment than the cognitively unimpaired, or non-dementia person.

Fresh Air in Our Secure Courtyard

Another important feature to both the resident and the caregivers is allowing the resident to have direct access to safe and secure outdoor spaces.  At Serenades, there is both greater visual and physical access to a pleasant outside environment.  With unimpaired access to an impressive outdoor area, the Serenades residents are experiencing far fewer incidents of active exit-seeking.  They seem to have a sense of freedom, of not being “imprisoned” and behaviors typically experienced by those with Alzheimer’s such as Sun-downingaimless wandering, and agitation are rarely seen. There are many benefits to being outside, including exposure to natural sunlight. Depression is often triggered by deprivation of light, and the light levels found indoors are usually not sufficient to regulate circadian rhythm – our biological clocks – or to stimulate production of melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep/awake patterns. Some residents with dementia may have to be encouraged to go outside through the use of planned activities, but the benefits of this can be enormous.

The careful design of the Serenades product offers a soothing and comforting environment for all who enter. Building in naturally familiar places such as the kitchen/dining areasliving roomssun porches and outdoor courtyards have proven to eliminate sources of frustration and support independent actions and personal choices.  These are areas that create confidence in everyday activities – not just a pretty box. Sonata Health Care has found a way to give their Residents, caregivers and families the heart that lives in the box and are Changing Their Story.

Guide to Finding the Right Memory Care Community for Your Loved One

Looking for the right memory care community can be challenging. You want to make sure you find the best place for your loved one, while dealing with a range of emotions. The entire family feels the impact when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's or a related form of dementia.