I told Melanie in the Salize Memory Care Sales Office that my name was Miss Reezba from Romania. My story was that I was looking for a great memory care facility for my ailing mother, who was once part of Romanian royalty, but who had recently lost her fortune, and, therefore was now looking for the most luxurious care but at an affordable price.
The truth was, my BFF at Avanti, Lillian, overheard her kids talking about moving her into the Salize Memory Care at Avanti. We had never heard of Salize before. It sounded far from our current living quarters. In fact, in all our Avanti wanderings we never saw a sign for this part of the building. I had a plan to figure out exactly what Salize was— incognito.
Lillian gave me her husband’s old sunglasses, which she kept in her purse for good luck, and her son’s trench coat, which he accidentally left last week during a visit. I borrowed one of Wes’s hats, tucked in my hair and scrubbed off my makeup, then placed two large grapefruits in my bra to change my silhouette. I used a low tone voice—kind of husky like actress Kathleen Turner or Kirsty Alley and reached back into my theater days from high school to don a thick Romanian accent which was surely not accurate but was rather sexy—an amalgam of Slavic languages and some Yiddish I picked up as a kid (my father was Jewish).
Melanie bought this schtick—hook, line and sinker. She gave me a folder of information and, as we began our tour, she explained that Salize was Avanti’s memory care program, which is seamlessly integrated into life at the facility – and that it was right here at Avanti where Lillian and I already lived. I think my shoulders relaxed 6 inches. But I was still curious to learn more.
We headed into the Art Studio and Melanie explained how the program successfully manages the Big 4: aggression, agitation, anxiety and apathy—all without drugs. The progressive National Institute of Health (NIH) research that the Salize programming is built upon delivers a better approach to addressing the aggression, agitation, anxiety and apathy that can accompany dementia. Some of the programming also involves healing art therapy with emphasis on music memory stimulation therapy.
Sam popped up from behind a large painting resting on an easel on a tabletop.
“Cross dressing today, Darlene?” he said as he gave me the once over.
“Old artist man you are mistaken. I don’t know you,” I said in my heavy accent.
“Don’t speak!” I barked at him.
“Whatever floats your boat,” grinned Sam and he continued with a dramatic brushstroke across his canvas.
Elegantly, Melanie ushered us back into the hallway as she continued explaining how the living environment itself plays a strong role in either mitigating or exacerbating the “Big 4” emotions. A lack of personal choice, meaningful engagement and familiar places can amplify negative feelings and unsettling behaviors. For many memory care communities, this leads to a greater reliance on pharmacological interventions, which in turn can result in overprescribing medications to relieve symptoms and control residents.
As we toured the hand-blown glass collection on the main hallway ceiling Melanie told me about Salize’s breakthrough approach, which eliminates or greatly reduces the need for mood altering drugs. This not only improves wellbeing, confidence and quality of life for individual residents, it creates more harmonious relationships with friends and family members.
“Really?” I said to Melanie. It sounded too good to be true.
“Yes,” she explained. “Salize has also demonstrated a 400% reduction rate in falls compared to similar memory care communities that don’t use the NIH researched approach.”
I saw Curly Sue coming down the hallway with her knitting bag. She was tilting her head sideways and trying to size me up. I pretended to be admiring a country style wreath on a resident member’s door to avoid speaking with her.
“Darlene?” said Curly Sue.
“No. Nothing to see here,” I said in my continued Romanian accent, and picked up my pace in the hallway with my cane.
Melanie smiled at Curly Sue as we whizzed by her and continued with the tour.
We turned down the hall to the light, airy and large Recreation Room adjacent to the Theater Screening Room and I commented on how much I liked the interior design of Avanti – as if I had never seen it before.
Melanie explained that Salize itself does not feel clinical, because of its very thoughtful and impactful design. In fact, the clinical care aspects of the program itself are made to be practically invisible to the residents. While many memory support communities look like institutional facilities that treat residents like patients, Salize, which is elegantly nestled within the Avanti Living community, and which looks and feels much like a well-appointed modern boutique hotel, treats their residents as guests.
I explained to Melanie that “my mother” (Lillian) has really good days and maybe only one or two days a week when her memory fails. Melanie nodded and explained that no one person experiences dementia the same way. Therefore, Avanti customizes its approach to create a memory support program which honors individual choice and dignity. Residents choose when they get up in the morning, which clothes to wear, and what to eat during meal times. They can choose to join in on group activities or pursue solo engagements. Each staff member undergoes extensive training to help guide empowering daily choices. Moreover, care partners keep detailed notes on each resident describing their likes, dislikes, moods, interests and state of mind. These personality profiles allow their care partners to tailor individual experiences while delivering an unprecedented continuity of care for each resident.
I liked what I heard. I was relieved to hear that Lillian would not be moving to a different area in the building, but instead everything would stay the same for her and the Salize program simply would be added to her care plan.
As I shook Melanie’s hand and thanked her for the tour, the grapefruit from my left bra cup dislodged, rolled down my body and landed on the floor between my legs! Behind my shades, my eyes went wide with horror!
Melanie didn’t miss a beat. She picked up the grapefruit and tried to hand it to me, but I was fumbling with my cane and the information folder, so she kept it.
“I’ll take care of this, Miss Reezba. It’s been a pleasure,” she said.
Then my other grapefruit dislodged and rolled down the hall!
“Dang Gummit!” I cried.
Suddenly, from behind a palm tree Lillian emerged. She tried to stop the grapefruit with her walker like a soccer goalie, but the yellow orb wouldn’t stop rolling. Melanie swooped in, grabbed the grapefruit and rounded the corner quickly out of sight.
“Oh, just toss those for me dear!” I said in a commanding Romanian voice.
Lillian and I turned around and headed down the hall. She looked at me with teary eyes.
“Oh, don’t get mushy on me,” I said.
“How far is Salize from here?” she pleaded with her eyes.
“We’re already living in it. We just didn’t know it. You won’t be moving, but you’ll have additional care built into your days,” I said.
Lillian brightened as she opened her residence door. We stepped inside. I took off the coat and hat and shook my hair free like a shampoo model and sat down in Lillian’s guest chair while she nestled into her bed.
Just as I was about to open my mouth to tell Lillian more, the doorbell rang!
I got up and opened the door. No one was there. On a food cart, however, sat Miss Reezba’s two large perky grapefruits cut open with cherries in the middle. They were served in fancy bowls, with linen napkins, fine silver cutlery and 2 champagne flutes filled with orange juice. Lillian and I looked at each other and just busted up laughing.
Oh, Avanti, you are a thoughtful and clever friend!