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Summer House: A Personalized And Caring Approach To Alzheimer’s

An interview with Director AnnaMarie Barba

Walnut Village is a full-service Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) that officially opened in October 2009 in Anaheim, CA. The community is a new concept in retirement living where residents 62 and older are surrounded by people, amenities and events that make life engaging. Its award-winning design is set apart by its unique village approach, complete with village square offering residents opportunities to dine, engage in social activities or simply relax. Offering 156 private residences, a Fitness & Aquatics Center, Lifelong Learning Center and a Performing Arts Center, Walnut Village's design recently earned a Gold award from the National Association of Home Builders 50+ Housing Council and a 2010 Beautification of Anaheim Award.

As a Continuing Care Retirement Community, residents age in place. The community brings assisted living service right to residents' doors when they need it, including a fully licensed skilled nursing center. In addition, there is a memory support neighborhood called Summer House with a staff of memory support caregivers who offer assisted care and individualized programming for those with varying degrees of memory loss. Color, layout of public spaces, lighting and visual cues were considered in the overall design of the neighborhood. One of the therapeutic features of the program is the wander garden with flowering shrubs and trees specifically chosen to attract birds and butterflies. A large entertainment space features a piano, arts and crafts center and a Wii gaming/fitness system.

The Summer House Difference

Learning something new, like a language, is generally thought of as good for mental health and to help prevent memory loss as we age. For those suffering from a memory loss disease like Alzheimer's, however, learning new things can be over-stimulating, creating stress and agitation. AnnaMarie Barba, the director of Summer House, says relearning an activity is more valuable for Alzheimer's patients than learning a new one, as it still provides a challenge, but one within their comfort zone.

To this end, AnnaMarie meets with each new resident upon arrival, learns his or her life story—such as favorite foods, hobbies, family events and more—and develops a unique care strategy focused on activities that have played a significant role in their lives. For example, one resident was an avid gardener. In AnnaMarie's program, this woman has been re-taught gardening techniques and even given a plot to work.

Parentgiving asked AnnaMarie to share her philosophy and the goals of Summer House.

What makes Summer House distinctive compared to other memory care facilities?

Summer House is a warm yet spacious area that only has 14 accommodations. We offer both private and companion living. What is nice about the location of Summer House is that it is located within Walnut Village and not away from the community. The design and layout really gives you the feeling that you are in a person's home and not a facility. You can take a walk through the wander garden, sit on a plush comfy sofa in one of many sun-filled rooms. The art on the walls tells stories of past times that are also friendly to the touch to allow for tactile stimulation. A baby grand piano lit up by the large windows allows for those with a musical past to not only enjoy for themselves, but listen to one of many pianists that come in to play on a weekly visit. The dining room is set up with a full functioning kitchen to allow for residents to partake in baking/cooking classes. We also have life skill stations, which are used for activity and to redirect when a resident becomes agitated or upset. Familiar periodic clothing display, a working man's desk that our fathers sat at and did paperwork on and a cradle that our mothers used to put us to sleep in are some of the soft nostalgic items of yesteryear at Summer House.

Can you describe some of the programs/initiatives for residents?

Programming in Summer House is unique in that we offer programs specific to the resident. Having a ratio of 3:1 really allows the staff and me to have quality time to spend with the resident on an individual basis. At the time that a new resident moves in I spend some in-depth time with the family obtaining what I refer to as a Life Story. I ask questions such as what was their favorite food as child or their favorite dish to cook. I then incorporate the answers into their programs. Working in the flower pots, walks along the wander garden, attending Bible study and music connection classes are just a handful of the programs in Summer House. Trips to the local stores for a cup of hot cocoa and some chatter is very stimulating and fun for the higher functioning residents. We make it a point to interact the residents with the outside world every day so there is not a sense of loss or feeling of isolation not only for the resident but the family as well.

How can people know when it's time to consider a facility like Summer House for a loved one?

This question is difficult becomes it really depends on the person or persons caring for the individual. Usually a family will come to me when they realize that their safety is in jeopardy, such as if you are unable to take a shower because your loved one will wander out of the house in just a matter of a couple minutes. When you are trying to assist with normal activities of daily living (bathing, showering, grooming) and falls are becoming the norm or when the fear of water sets in and they are unable to shower the person because they become combative, it is time to consider a place like Summer House.

It is, in my opinion, best for a family to consider a place like Summer House when you can say to yourself that the person's quality of life is declining. A common situation I see is when the family comes to me because the person acting as the caregiver is in far worse health then the potential resident because of the toll it takes on the caregiver.

Can a couple stay together even if only one has dementia (or does there come a point where this is detrimental for the unaffected partner)?

This truly depends on where the person is within their dementia and/or how well the unaffected person is coping with their loved one. You will see sometimes that the spouse is very controlling and will not allow the staff to assist when they should or they feel they know what's “best” for them because they are their spouse. If I accept a married couple it is thoroughly explained that at any time if I feel the situation is no longer appropriate then they will be separated, but will work closely with them through the transition.

To learn more about Summer House, visit their website at