Abundant Life in a Different World
Many of us joke of “senior moments” when we have glitches in our memory. However, a true diagnosis of brain disease, where memory loss and other cognitive functions deteriorate, is a heavy blow. It ushers seniors and their families onto an entirely different path: a “purple path,” a winding and mysterious road. MorningStar is honored to walk alongside the memory-impaired (and their families) on this unexpected journey.
Whatever the extent of the memory loss, whatever the form of dementia, we know a person’s essence remains. Our calling—our privilege—at MorningStar is to find ways to connect with and nurture that essence. Our energies are put toward continuing to find ways to celebrate and elevate life.
MorningStar’s philosophy and approach to this kind of supported living is encompassed under the expanse of possibilities we call “Lavender Sky.” Under a Lavender Sky, our ambition is to thoughtfully enter, embrace and explore. Here’s how:
Dementia is an entirely different and isolating world. Here, involuntarily, the memory-impaired enter, and remain. Into this world, a corps of the most amazing souls also choose to enter…drawn by compassion. In loving support for the memory-impaired, we enter with insight and intentionality. As agents of comfort, we step into their “purple world,” crossing over the physical, emotional and boundaries that would otherwise separate us. As dementia care experts, MorningStar endeavors to educate families in how to follow our lead and enter too.
Embracing the world of dementia begins by accepting the diagnosis (difficult as that can be), and the fact that this is now the path we must walk, together. As much, we embrace a deep understanding of brain disease, whatever the form of dementia that has taken hold. We embrace whatever changes are needed in our own communication style, willingly changing us, for their sake. We embrace disruption for the discovery and innovation it reveals. We embrace each moment, ransoming it for joy, as we embrace residents physically, knowing the power of human touch. Most centrally, we embrace hope—that it remains, even now. You just have to know where to look.
Under a Lavender Sky, exploration is boundless. It must be, for dementia itself is expansive, each form manifesting differently in each person. As care partners, exploring means being resourceful, finding individualized solutions, and resolving to begin anew (for what worked yesterday may not work today). We explore a person’s life, history and preferences to offer personalized care. We explore ways to involve and engage family members, knowing our service is as much to them as to the residing senior.
I truly think Dad has had more joy in his life these last few years at MorningStar than he has had since he was a young man. Being with all of you, he feels love, friendship and a dignified care that he hadn’t experienced for a very long time. (Resident’s son)
Going Purple: A Unplanned Journey into the World of Dementia
At MorningStar we know. Healing always comes from human touch, from empathy, from purposeful engagement. That’s what brings us back from the edge.
Ronda Lunnon, Executive Director at MorningStar of RidgeGate, cites from her own extensive service in memory care: “Far from depressing, working with the memory-impairedRead more
I’ve found to be a blessing waiting to happen. When I walk into our Reflections neighborhood, I walk into a different world, where I play whatever part is needed for the sake of that resident, that day.”
In considering the consequences of dementia on family dynamics, Ronda offers hope. “This can be a time of great restoration in families. Barriers come tumbling down. Estrangements are mended. Parents, children, siblings can share at a deeper level of honesty.”
Within her own extended family, she discovered these truths too late. “Years ago, when my grandmother was beset with Alzheimer’s, my mom—all of us— refused to accept what we saw as a dismal future. In fear and frustration, we pressed Grandma. ‘Don’t you remember this?; don’t you remember that?; come on, try harder.’”
Today Ronda knows better. “Families can get beyond the heartache, dwelling not on what’s lost, but on the surprise in what’s found. You can learn to enter this present moment, embracing what comes, whatever comes.
“But first you must move past denial and, above all, educate yourself,” Ronda continues. “Read, ask, listen. Absolutely join a support group through the Alzheimer’s Association. Call its HelpLine. These resources make the journey so much easier, giving you coping skills and relief from the intense frustration and guilt that invariably attend. You can learn not only to recognize ransomed moments, but create them, and be blessed through them.
“My grandmother eventually knew her husband of 70 years only as ‘Friend John.’ Theirs was for decades a rocky marriage, made so largely by John’s roughness. Yet, in the end, in her dementia, she would call out daily, longing to see him. The past—the not-so-pleasant past— had blissfully faded. All that remained was her friend, John. The last three years were the best of their entire marriage. My mom commented often that she wouldn’t have missed witnessing that healing for anything.”
Holistic Approach to Dementia Care
Hope is what we all crave, what we cling to. So hope is what we deliver at MorningStar. For the memory-impaired, hope comes wrapped in intentionality and creativity.
“Dementia is such a scary road for families, especially when they don’t understand the disease, says Teresa Jones, Regional Director of Resident Care. “All they do know is that it’s turned their parent or spouse into someone else.”
“Central to my responsibility (and joy) at MorningStar is caring for the family members. My door is always open to them, day or night. When they come into my office, everything else stops. ‘How are you feeling after today’s visit? Was it a good moment, a bad one?’ I want to be there to comfort and advise.”
For dementia sufferers themselves life becomes a purple world, an alternative reality. The best way to reach them is to “get purple” too, go where they are in their thoughts and meet them there. “I just got back from London,” one resident might say. And we respond, “How was your trip? What did you do? Glad you’re back home.” Or in a more agitated vein, “I want to go home. I have to get home.” Our response: “Tell me about your home; what’s it like? Why do you love it so?”
“Dementia introduces a crazy rhythm and reason,” Teresa explains. “It’s our job to study each resident’s history and personality, and figure out what each behavior is trying to communicate.
Adverse behaviors are often side effects from antipsychotic drugs. Teresa stresses, “As a staunch advocate for families, I’m going to wrack my brain and exhaust every resource before I go the pharmaceutical route. My goal as Wellness Director is to have less than 10% of my residents on any kind of drug.”
Success stories from Teresa’s chapter book speak loudest…
One of our residents is a retired captain from the Phoenix Fire Department. When he came to us, Murray*, was impulsively rising from his seat and falling often. The cause was easy to finger when we learned he was on Haldol which produces hallucinations and insomnia as it robs the appetite.
Here was another situation when an antipsychotic was prescribed not to counter psychosis, but to control some other symptom. “We begged hospice to take him off. His family was in full agreement, seeing what the drug was doing to their beloved father. It took an Act of Congress, but we were successful”.
To curb the falls, especially at high-risk times of day, we made Murray a nest in one of our common areas. Reading on the floor had always been his habit. So there he was content and comfortable, with staff and residents all around. Teresa proudly reports he hasn’t had a fall in three months. Has no skin tears. And thoroughly enjoys three meals a day.
“His wife has cried many times with joy, so appreciative is she of our intervention and love,” says Teresa. “For the first time in a long time, she’s relaxed enough to go on vacation, confident in our care. That’s the best compliment we can get.”
Another story, this one incriminating Depakote, a powerful tranquilizer: “We titrated one of our gentleman off that drug,” says Teresa, “substituting a routine he’d loved throughout his life: taking leisurely walks. Now, Barry* walks our greater neighborhood 3-4 times a day, with staff.” By this, he has come back to life: engaged all day long, serving others, tidying up, joining in.
* Names have been changed to protect resident privacy
Our innovative dining approaches within Memory Care won us this online coverage:
MorningStar communities are private pay.
It is our distinct honor to partner with the Alzheimer’s Association in every market in which we serve, supporting the local chapter with our time, talent and treasure. We serve on their boards and committees. We fund-raise all year long. We participate in their centerpiece initiatives, like Memories in the Making, The Longest Day and Walk to End Alzheimer’s. See Giving Back Locally.
If you are in immediate need of encouragement, right now, please call the Alzheimer’s Association’s Hotline at 1.800.272.3900.