Georgia retirement community offers innovative approach to memory care

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Walking through the memory care unit known as "the Butterfly Home" at Park Springs Retirement Community in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Stacy Tillman and her father Clark Scoggins stop outside the 85-year's room, where the wall is covered with photos of him.

"It's the story of his life, pretty much," Tillman says.  "It starts from the beginning when he was a baby."

There are photos of Scoggins as a UGA student, a military man, a husband of 51-years. "Sometimes, he can't recall his life, so it tells people his story," his daughter says. Photos line the walls outside each of the 18 patient rooms here. Staffers tell their stories in books along the walls. Park Springs' Executive Director Tim Knight says they want the staff to really know each patient, or member, as they're called here. The photos, he says, give them tools to meet each member where they're at from moment to moment.

"If someone is having a really bad day, just drawing from a memory to allow them to connect to, and being able to have a meaningful engagement with a staff member is so important," Knight says.

This approach, based on the program Dementia Care Matters, is all about forming an emotional connection between the employees and the people in their care. The staff wear their own clothes instead of uniforms. There's no set schedule. At the bright common areas are full of things to touch, and talk about. Knight says they call this "the stuff of life."

"It's just really important to have those things to engage, make a difference, hold hands, touch," Knight says.  "We're also a very high-touch environment."

Tillman says her dad has always kept to himself. 

Her mom, who passed away 11 years ago, was the social one.

"So the beautiful thing is they pull him out, they get him out of his room," she says.  "They get him engaging with other people and interacting."

Staffers wear aprons, filled with items they can used to interact with the members.

"If you're having a bad day, they're putting their arms around you, asking if you want a cup of coffee," Tillman says.

In the year since the unit opened, Knight says they've seen a reawakening in some of their members.

Patients who haven't spoken, he says, have started engaging with residents.

"We've seen people that refuse to come of out their room now out every day, sitting in the dining room," Knight says.

Stacy Tillman says she's seen a change in her father.

"Before he was really not engaging in life," she says. "Now, when I walk in, he's smiling, he's happy, he's put on weight. You can tell he's thriving."

The Park Springs Butterfly House is one of about 100 worldwide. Park Springs has plans to open another retirement community with a similar program in Buckhead next year.