Finding the right place for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease

July 12, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Rosemary Horstman placed her mother on the waiting list for Copper Ridge as soon as she learned about plans to build the facility for the memory-impaired.

"I knew, down the road, I would have to find someplace and Copper Ridge was part of my grand plan," Ms. Horstman said.

Copper Ridge opened last week in Sykesville with her 74-year-old mother, Eleanor Finnin, among its first residents.

When Mrs. Finnin was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease four years ago, the Horstmans joined the growing number of families -- one of every eight in this country -- who have to deal with some form of dementia. From the onset of her mother's disease, Ms. Horstman knew that eventually she would not be able to care for her at home. She began an intensive search for available help.

She is aware of the difficulties inherent in finding the right care. As director of education of the Columbia-based Maryland Association of Non-Profit Homes for the Aging, Ms. Horstman said, she receives several calls a day from people who are looking for services for the elderly.

Her search led her to Copper Ridge, a $17 million complex associated with Fairhaven and the first facility on the East Coast dedicated to people with Alzheimer's and other memory-impairing disorders.

"I was on the top of their mailing list, so I knew how the building was progressing and all about the research that went into it," Ms. Horstman said. "I sent my application back the day I got it."

After Mrs. Finnin was widowed, she went to live with her daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons in Columbia. She remained with the Horstmans until her daughter could no longer handle the demands of family, job and ailing mother.

"I went through all the guilt because I couldn't be everything to her," Ms. Horstman said. "I am the classic example of the sandwich generation."

Ms. Horstman didn't want to place her mother in a "stereotypical" nursing home with rooms off long halls leading from a nursing station. At Copper Ridge, she found a noninstitutional "homelike" setting that emphasizes the least restrictive environment for its residents.

"The environment plays an integral role in the resident's well being and how highly functioning she remains," she said.

The staff at Copper Ridge, which is sponsored by Episcopal Health Ministries, places a high priority on surroundings as part of the treatment process, she said.

Mrs. Finnin will live with 19 other residents, each in private rooms, in the cluster of four houses that make up the domiciliary care unit. The residents dine in small areas and help with meal preparation. Their daily life consists of activities directed by therapists and trained professionals.

"Everyone spends time with the residents," Ms. Horstman said.

Skilled nursing care becomes available to residents with advanced conditions.

Although Ms. Horstman knows her mother will continue to lose functioning ability, "I think she still has a long time to live. All I want is for her to live with dignity and happiness."

The diagnosis was "really sad for her," said Ms. Horstman of the time when her mother could still grasp what was happening to her. "She was always busy and it was important for her to stay busy."

Mrs. Finnin, who also suffers from osteoporosis and arthritis, had raised eight children and worked as director of admissions at a Washington hospital. Retired after several years as an office manager, she pursued many hobbies.

She never displayed the behavior often associated with Alzheimer's, but she could not be left alone, her daughter said.

"I still really don't know anyone sweeter," Ms. Horstman said. "She has no time awareness and feared being alone. She didn't make demands but she was needy."

Mrs. Finnin for a time was enrolled in Winter Growth, an assisted-living program in Columbia, only minutes from the Horstmans' home. Eventually, she was not able to function at a level required by that facility. Last year, unable to wait for the opening of Copper Ridge, Ms. Horstman placed her mother in the Homewood Retirement Community in Frederick.

"Homewood had programming all through the day, and the residents felt they were doing something worthwhile," she said. "My mother has been happy and content there and has received wonderful care."

Ms. Horstman found that Copper Ridge, with its emphasis on surroundings, "is ideal for Alzheimer's patients."

"I still feel awareness of the environment is the last thing to go," she said. "While she is still cognizant of her surroundings, I want to keep my mother functionning at the highest level for the longest time."

Copper Ridge "will stimulate her more and she will remember what to do," Ms. Horstman said.

Halving the travel time was also a key factor in her decision to move her mother. Homewood is about a 45-minute drive for Ms. Horstman and "visiting became a production except for weekends."

Copper Ridge also provides adult day care and houses a research facility for dementia illnesses.

"Copper Ridge will remain true to its mission," she said. "It will be a resource for the community and willing to share its research."

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