Nashville Dementia Ward Aims To Become Hub For Memory Care Research | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Dementia Ward Aims To Become Hub For Memory Care Research

Sep 8, 2015

An assisted living facility that caters to dementia residents is trying to make Nashville a hub for research in the growing field of memory care. Abe's Garden is a 42-bed complex near Belle Meade that's scheduled to open later this month.

Some of the latest developments in Alzheimer's care are simple. 

"You would not look at this and think this is a closet," says Betsy Jones, who helped furnish the rooms and living space.

Each room has a camouflaged supply cabinet like this one, which looks like it might just be for displaying photos.
Credit Robert Heller / Abe's Garden

She points to a narrow wardrobe that looks like it's just a tower for displaying picture frames. There's one in every room. On the side is a hidden door, intended to prevent a common occurrence for those dealing with memory loss.

"We call it rummaging," Jones says. "They might be looking for something they are sure has been stolen from them. 'I need my wallet. I need my handbag. I need my watch. You took it.'"

Keeping most possessions and supplies out of sight seems to also keep them out of mind, Jones says. 

Abe's Garden expands the existing Park Manor Senior Lifestyle Community, which was bought by the new non-profit entity in 2008. It's named after founder Michael Shmerling's father, who battled Alzheimer's for a decade before his death in 2006.

The new single-level unit is attached to the larger Park Manor towers, creating an enclosed courtyard that is shared by residents of both facilities. Unlike the typical memory care unit, Abe's Garden was designed to have few locked doors. Most exits lead to the courtyard, where residents are encouraged to spend time.

There are kitchens that can be used at any point in the day, meaning dangerous utensils like knives are kept in locked storerooms. Outside, there's a grilling area families can use when they come to visit. Development director Beth Zeitlin says instead of eliminating all potential hazards, management plans to use elevated staffing ratios to monitor everyone.  

"Our goal is to see how far we can push those boundaries of safety with engagement," Zeitlin says. "It's a tradeoff. We're willing to try."

Abe’s Garden has contracted with the Vanderbilt Center for Quality Aging, giving researchers access to patients so they can monitor prescription drug intake and study feeding and restroom regimens. The idea is that they will make recommendations for improvement. 

Geriatrics professor Sandra Simmons says, in her field, few opportunities exist to experiment in Alzheimer's wards, because roughly 80 percent of assisted living facilities are owned by investors.

"A typical for-profit industry is not so jazzed about you telling them that this intervention is extremely effective, but you’re going to need to hire two more people," Simmons says.

While run as a non-profit, Abe's Garden is still expensive — $6,000 a month for residents. The facility will also offer adult daycare. Organization officials say they hope to offer need-based discounts in the future.

Abe's Garden is built around a courtyard that is meant to provide an enclosed space for residents to roam freely. Park Manor residents also have access to the courtyard and are encouraged to mingle with the memory care patients.
Credit Robert Heller / Abe's Garden