Bobbi and Tony Majors can’t agree on when they moved into Maplewood Senior Living in Newtown. Tony said it’s been a few months, and Bobbi said it’s only been a few weeks. Both can’t wait to return to the home they built themselves, overlooking the mountains in Vermont. But that cannot happen, for they have reached the time in their lives when they can no longer care for themselves.
At a networking event at Maplewood Senior Living, professionals sampled wholesome and locally produced food while the residents of the home were involved in various activities.
In one room, a bingo game was going on. In another, residents filled the plush seating in the movie screening room. Others were gathered in the bright and airy dining room.
“Not everyone here has Altzheimers or dementia," Program Director Christina Dokas explained. "Many have physical ailments. Whatever they are facing, they come in independent, and they gain more independence by being here.”
Based on a philosophy developed by Greg Smith, who now operates three Maplewood Senior Living centers in the area, Dokas explained that the vision of the home is based on humor, empathy, adult autonomy, reaching out, and respect.
Dokas said, “People always focus on the loss with dementia and altzheimers, but there are still so many opportunities to celebrate the positive.”
For Dokas, that often means indulging a resident’s disconnection from reality, and letting them continue the routines they lived their whole lives.
With an abundance of passion for her work, Dokas described the elderly, retired, business man who regularly wanders into her office. Knowing he was a supervisor all of his life, she asks him to check over her files. He looks through them, gives them his stamp of approval, and moves on.
Another gentleman comes in and said the love of his life wants to marry him. That they have been married decades is unimportant. Dokas asked, “Can you imagine how much he loves her?”
Laura Shortt gave a tour of the facilities and explained that her love for her job came from the fact that her mother developed dementia at 59 years old. “It was a horrible journey, but it changes you - and it has become my passion,” she said.
“Families struggle with placing their parents in a home, and usually there is an event that triggers it,” Dokas said.
“There is always a story,” added Shortt.
Director of Programming at the Danbury Maplewood, Sarah Perez, said, “Sometimes it is just that their parents are sitting in their home alone, watching CNN. They aren’t cooking or eating properly, or taking enough showers. Often times families don’t live nearby or they work all day.”
“We have this feeling, they are our parents and they should be with us in the home,” Perez added.
“But they can improve the quality of their life, their socialization and activities,” Dr. David Marks, the contracted physician for three Maplewood facilities, said.
The group explained how the activities allowed the residents to lead relatively independent lives. Cooking, taking the ferry for lunch in Port Jefferson, berry picking, scenic rides, even yoga and meditation were part of the program.
Dokas said, “We try to protect their autonomy. We all want to have a sense of control and choice in our life. Most agitation and aggression (with Altzheimers) comes out of a loss of control.”
The local professionals who came to network admired the gardens and wandered the European style courtyard. They sipped wine and enjoying local chevre on whole grained bread with fig preserves. Many said they were impressed with the facilities and atmosphere, and joked that they were ready to check in. But for residents like the Majors, who couldn’t wait to return to the homes they will never see again, the reality of such a relocation was difficult to absorb.