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A Good Age: How 2 families decided to move loved ones into memory care
The Patriot Ledger - 11/23/2021
DUXBURY - Anne Donovan was one of eight siblings growing up in Dorchester in the 1950s.
"She is not the type I envisioned having Alzheimer's," her younger sister Barbara Ready, of Plymouth, said.
A graduate of Emmanuel College, Donovan was outgoing, articulate, "a mover and a shaker, an in-charge kind of person." She blossomed during a long career as a chief juvenile probation officer in Dedham and later embraced political roles in state and federal agencies.
She worked for former Gov. Michael Dukakis, with Hillary Clinton on the White House Millennium Council and for a Washington, D.C., law firm until she was 72.
She returned to Massachusetts, had homes in Duxbury and Plymouth and managed well until 2020, despite growing memory problems.
"A year ago, we felt we couldn't leave her alone," Ready said. "She wasn't cooking, was not eating, couldn't drive. She would go walking and get lost. We were nervous about another winter."
As families gather for the holidays after being apart last year due to COVID restrictions, it will be a time for also considering what the future may hold for older relatives.
Ted Curtin, of Plymouth, describes his parents, Grace, 96, and Ted, 95, as a couple who "have never really been apart" in 67 years of marriage.
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His father, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, had a long career as a submarine commander, then taught history at his alma mater, Norwood High School, for 10 years. His mother was a court officer in the Dedham courthouse. The couple retired to Plymouth, where Ted portrayed Master Jones on the Mayflower II replica for 17 years in the 1980s and 1990s.
Grace began to develop memory problems and the couple moved to independent living at the Village at Duxbury, a senior community, where they managed well until Ted fell and broke his hip in 2019.
To help keep his parents together, their son Ted moved into their Village apartment for six weeks while his dad's hip healed. When COVID arrived in 2020, however, and the state shutdown took hold, "we were worried my folks wouldn't be able to find sufficient assistance and it would be too much for my dad to handle," Ted said.
In the fall of 2020, the Donovans and the Curtins were at a loss about what to do. Just in time, a new alternative became available when Duxbury House opened at the Village at Duxbury in October 2020.
Targeted memory care is one of the newer options for families in the spectrum of elder services as more people live longer. Duxbury House, which is part of Welch Senior Living, is described as an assisted living residence with memory care expertise and programs. It is designed for people who do not need skilled nursing home care but do need constant supervision.
Merry Dalahmeh, a nurse, is executive director of Duxbury House. The central mission, she said, is "getting to know each resident and watching them enjoy their days."
"Although we are not a skilled nursing center, we can accommodate residents' needs as if they were in their own home," she said. "We have a visiting nurse come in and do dressings and lab draws if a resident needs that, and a couple of residents have received hospice services as they would at home."
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The living space is designed to be cozy and home-like. There are two households. Each has 12 bedrooms, a dining area, a living room or community space, an area for arts and crafts and a den with TV.
The staff-resident ratio is one nurse and two home health aides for 12 residents. The aides all receive dementia certification training.
Shadessha Stallworth, 31, of Brockton, has been a home health aide for five years and chose to work in memory care.
"I enjoy the appreciation of the residents," she said. "I listen to their stories and I just have a passion for it. I used to take care of my grandmother."
The dementia certification has given her insights into what to expect and what to do if residents with dementia become anxious and want to go home.
"If they are sad, I might give them a hug, or try to do something to cheer them up, talk about what they like, or their past, or suggest we watch a movie," Stallworth said. "We also have support from the nurses and other aides."
"This has really proved to be a godsend," Grace and Ted Curtin's son Ted said. "With the onset of COVID, it really gave us a great deal of security to know my folks are safe and well taken care of. The staff are affectionate, kind and caring and have a sense of how to be with people with memory issues. They have all sorts of things to keep people engaged and thinking - fun things, thoughtful things. The rapport between my folks and the staff really makes you feel good about where they are."
Ready said, "It is not an easy decision to take someone out of their home, and for every family it's different."
Donovan has five brothers and sisters and all were involved.
"We all started investigating and we liked the philosophy of the Duxbury House. It seemed something Annie would enjoy. She would be safe and engaged. The social piece of her life had been huge and she no longer had it."
Last week, Donovan was moving from one activity to another with confidence, and as Ready watched her, she said, "She has stopped asking when was she going home to her own house. She is very comfortable and I think she thinks that she works there."
Reach Sue Scheible at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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