NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Care of seniors affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias has taken a leap forward with the opening of Willow Gardens Memory Care, a groundbreaking residential facility at United Hebrew of New Rochelle. The 51-bed, two-story home is the first non-profit assisted living center in Westchester County designed exclusively for individuals with memory impairment. It opens as the region, and the nation, prepares for a growing wave of people affected by dementia, propelled by longer life spans. According to the Hudson Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 40,000 people in the Hudson Valley have Alzheimer’s disease, and the number is expected to climb to 50,000 by 2025.
“With the need so great, there is an increased demand for quality care for this segment of our population,” notes Rita Mabli, President and CEO of United Hebrew. “Willow Gardens provides that care that has been meticulously planned so that life for its residents will be fulfilling and enriching.”
Mabli adds that the services and creative activities at Willow Gardens are carefully thought out, based on the latest research, and adapted by her highly experienced and caring staff to meet individual needs. “Our goal is to see residents living full lives and engaging with their family members, the staff, and each other.” She emphasizes the importance of creating an environment that eases the frustration that comes with dementia and helping residents live the lives they want, with activities that resonate with each individual. In addition, she said that every detail “has been lovingly planned, from soothing easy-to navigate spaces to specially-designed programs to more than 70 carefully-chosen works of art on the walls.”
The facility, at 60 Willow Drive, New Rochelle, is a natural next step in the evolution of United Hebrew’s 7.5-acre campus of comprehensive care. With an award-winning assisted-living facility, state-of-the-art, five-star skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, and two independent senior housing apartment buildings, the campus allows seniors to age in place, remaining at United Hebrew as their needs change over time. Willow Gardens significantly expands the capacity of the campus, which now serves over 800 people daily.
Feeling “like you’re at home”
Willow Gardens was built in United Hebrew’s former Saul and Ada Gutner Pavilion, which was hailed as an innovative new concept in residences for the elderly when it opened, with its saw-tooth design offering each resident a completely private living-bedroom with double exposure. Now updated for today’s seniors, Willow Gardens features light, soothing colors and halls and rooms that feel comfortably sized.
Those with moderate memory impairment will live one the first floor, while the second floor will be home to residents affected by severe dementia.
“You feel very much like you’re at home here,” Ms. Mabli said. “It’s comfortable, and the layout makes it easy to understand and navigate. There’s no place that people can get lost.”
Hallways end with comfortable chairs so that they do not appear as dead ends. An activity room with large windows looks out on the fully secured patio and garden area where residents will enjoy barbecues, parties and gardening activities while benefiting from sun and fresh air. A secure upper patio also offers second-floor residents the opportunity to get outside in pleasant weather. The dining area, called the Palm Court, features a high, curved ceiling with translucent panels that let in more natural light.
More than 90 years of experience
In developing the programing for Willow Gardens, United Hebrew was able to draw on more than 90 years of experience in caring for memory-impaired residents in dedicated spaces. The Nightingale Neighborhood in the skilled nursing facility and the Phoenix Memory Care Neighborhood in the Willow Towers Assisted Living center are both secured units with home-like settings and activities designed to engage and enrich people affected by dementia.
Taking the next step – designing an assisted living facility dedicated entirely for residents affected by dementia – allows the staff to focus solely on their needs. Research shows that Alzheimer’s is less jarring and easier to cope with when people affected by it spend their days among others with similar conditions. At Willow Gardens, residents live in proximity to those with similar levels of memory impairment; this allows for individualized care and increased opportunities for socialization, which research also shows is key to maintaining and enhancing a person’s quality of life. It will be run by Executive Director Sallie Carlin, a certified recreational therapist [CTRS]with more than 25 years of experience caring for residents with memory loss.
“The key is to keep the residents engaged with activities that are tailored to their lives, and to respect their dignity while offering them choices,” Ms. Carlin said. “As part of that, we get to know their life stories so that we can offer them the activities they will enjoy.”
The residents will be engaged throughout the day with programs such as music and art therapy, while the rhythm of the day is planned to ease anxiety that people with dementia often face. Activities will continue into the night, ending at 8 p.m. specifically to counter “Sundowning” or “late-day confusion,” the frustration that people with Alzheimer’s tend to experience later in the day.
Art that welcomes, and does so much more
In choosing paintings, collages and photographs for the halls and common areas, United Hebrew’s art experts intentionally selected pieces that would awaken senses, evoke natural settings, nostalgia, or images of distant places. The art is designed to give residents and their visiting friends and family members memories and thoughts to chat about and make connections over. Many of the works were commissioned specifically for Willow Gardens. They include various styles from 17 artists, as well as posters from movies that bring up immediate memories of past decades – The Sound of Music, Casablanca and Fiddler on the Roof, among others.
“Everything was truly made by hand especially for Willow Gardens,” said Jodi Moise, Gallery Advisor for United Hebrew. “There’s a real sense of tactility. It’s not only warm and engaging, but it’s a little bit more thought provoking. We want people to feel that they are in their home.”
Photos include active seniors and cheery nature shots. In the dining area, residents will find images of strawberry tarts, French cheeses and bread to whet their appetites. A collage displays baseball memorabilia for sports fans. Near the reception desk, visitors will find a depiction of flowers in soothing blues, purples and lavenders. A small nook is adorned with a sheer tapestry with actual leafs sewn in. Nearby, a collage spells out “HOME.”
“We wanted something very soothing and warm and inviting,” said curator Robin Zane. “We wanted to make a great first impression on families and make them feel welcome.”
Home, comfort and safety is the theme that runs through Willow Gardens. The artwork, the architecture and the activities are all designed to serve as a model of how to care for people facing dementia for decades to come.
“We have taken care of everything,” said Ms. Mabli. “This is the first residence of its kind, and we want it to lead the way in offering residents with memory impairment as much enrichment, companionship and joy as possible.”