How Highgate Helps Memory Care Residents Have a Positive Experience

At Highgate Senior Living, every team member’s mission is to help every resident, regardless of age or ailment, live a life of purpose.

Hands of a young girl and an elderly woman playing they piano

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be difficult, exhausting, and emotionally draining, yet you might believe you are the only one who can take care of your loved one properly. Fortunately, that’s not true. The memory care program at Highgate Senior Living is designed to provide a positive, compassionate, purposeful experience for seniors with dementia.

A Positive Approach to Memory Care

At Highgate Senior Living, each team member’s mission is to help every resident, regardless of age or ailment, live a life of purpose. Guided by Teepa Snow, who calls her philosophy “The Positive Approach to Care,” Highgate is an industry leader in holistic care within memory care communities

So how does Highgate help memory care residents have a positive experience?

They Walk in Their Shoes

Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT) is one of the many tools Highgate team members use to develop understanding and empathy for people with dementia, their caregivers, and their family members. During a Virtual Dementia Tour, trained facilitators guide participants outfitted with patented devices that alter their senses while they try to complete common everyday tasks and exercises.

“The saying ‘Don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes’ is exactly what a virtual dementia tour is,” says Katrina Custodio, the Life Enhancement Coordinator at Highgate at Temecula. “After participating in a VDT, our care partners have experienced firsthand what it is like to live with dementia. By knowing what dementia feels like, we can better approach our care for our residents.”

They Modify the Situation

During exercise activities at Highgate at Vancouver, Life Enhancement Specialist Rose Zamudio-Mora helps residents with dementia and physical limitations participate by modifying the situation.

“I do a very expressive, fun exercise program with the Cottage residents,” she says. “At the same time that everyone around you is doing exercise, you can include residents who cannot move any part of their body by using their name, coming up and being expressive toward them, and giving them a pat. I use singing during my exercise a lot, and they’re listening. When you see a toe tap, then you know you’ve done your job.”

They Have No Expectations

One of the challenges for family caregivers of loved ones with dementia is that they are grieving the loss of the loved one they once knew. Team members and care partners at Highgate, however, only know the senior as who they are today.

“We have zero expectations of them when they walk in,” says Mandy Ketcham, Community Relations Coordinator at Highgate at Yakima. “We didn’t know them before the disease hit. We look at them as who they are when they walk into our community.”

Ketcham shares a story about a woman who moved from another facility to memory care at Highgate. “Her friend told us that because she was 95, all she wanted to do was sit there and people watch,” Ketcham recalls. “She said that she used to play the piano and dance, but because she is at the age she is, she was unable to. Well, we took this as a challenge.”

Instead of asking, “Do you want to play the piano?” Ketcham asked the resident, “Can you help me play?” Ketcham put her hands across the piano — and the woman sat down and played.

“That’s what we can do,” Ketcham says. “We didn't know if she could play or not. We challenge our residents to see what they can and cannot do. We know if we guide or ask for help, we can typically get them to do something that’s purposeful.”

They Find Out What Gives Residents Purpose

Through Life Story and Purposeful Living interviews, the Highgate team members elicit ideas and information that allows them to plan programming that is specific to each resident. 

“We get to know the residents and find out what gives them purpose,” says Lena Zaeske, Memory Care Coordinator at Highgate at Bozeman. “For example, we have residents who were homemakers. So, we might pull out the towels and start folding them. Then they’ll come over and fold with us. That might seem small, but it used to provide them purpose to do the laundry and those types of things for their family, so we find those things and help them with that.”

Adds Custodio: “Staying active and engaged is important for someone with dementia. It’s about the quality of life. When someone has a purpose, it gives the individual the sense of self-worth.”

If you want to help your loved one live a purposeful, positive life — and stop feeling guilty all the time — learn more about how Highgate Senior Living can help in our eBook From Guilt to Gratitude: How Highgate Senior Living Helped My Family Feel Good Again.

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