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Parker Oaks adds assisted-living dementia unit

By Staff | Mar 7, 2011

Harry Marks is a resident of the new assisted-living dementia unit at Parker Oaks in Winnebago. The unit features six rooms, three of which are already full.

It has only been around for two weeks, but the new assisted-living dementia unit at Parker Oaks Communities, Inc., in Winnebago is already half full.

The dementia unit can house six residents, and its third one moved in last week.

Parker Oaks decided it needed an assisted-living dementia unit about six months ago when residents in need of extra supervision were having to find other places to go.

Although Parker Oaks does have a dementia unit for its nursing home, not all residents with dementia required the high amount of care a nursing home provides.

“We lost some residents because they were still physically capable, but they weren’t mentally cognitively appropriate,” says Kara Aukes, Parker Oaks director of nursing.

Prior to Parker Oaks’ addition, the nearest assisted-living facilities with dementia units were located in Fairmont and Mankato. St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center in Blue Earth has a dementia unit in its nursing home, but not in assisted-living.

Since Parker Oaks was not full to capacity in assisted-living anyway, it was decided that six of its 22 total rooms would make up a brand new dementia unit — a benefit for not only the residents, but for those who were taking care of them while they still lived at home.

“We see a lot of caregiver exhaustion,” Aukes says. “A lot of times the spouse of the person with dementia is so exhausted that they run into health problems themselves.”

Older adults can sometimes have trouble leaving their home to receive care elsewhere, but in the assisted living dementia unit, residents are welcome to bring belongings with them to try to make their new residence feel as much like home as possible.

The type of care they receive is much different than in the regular assisted-living community, because everything is secured and supervised, with staff on-hand 24 hours a day.

“It’s a better nurse to resident ratio,” Aukes says, adding that the staff do activities with the residents right on the unit, but will also accompany them to other Parker Oaks activities.

“It is important for them to be able to socialize with other people,” she says.

Mostly, the 24-hour staff help give dementia residents the one-on-one care they require when confusion is at its worst.

Many times dementia patients will be fine during the day, but come early evening they’ll suffer from sundowning, a symptom of dementia that causes late-day disorientation. Aukes says it’s often difficult for other assisted-living tenants to understand what dementia residents go through, so having a separate unit is beneficial.

Creating the dementia unit was a fairly easy task since no heavy construction had to be done. Instead, a pre-existing area underwent a few changes. For example, keylocks were added to the elevators and the doors were changed so that a number keypad is now used to open them.

The area was also given a fresh coat of paint and was made into separate dining room and living room spaces.

“So that their rooms will be more just for bedtime,” Aukes explains.

With only three available rooms remaining, Aukes expects the dementia unit will fill up quickly.

“There have been people in the community that have expressed interest,” she says.