Imagine that you can’t remember things well anymore. Your thinking is fuzzy, and it upsets you when you get confused. Part of you recognizes that you can’t live alone in your house anymore, and that you need help to stay safe. You don’t trust yourself to remember to turn off the stove, so you’ve been neglecting meals. You keep forgetting to take your pills. You avoid the shower because you’re afraid you’ll fall. And maybe worst of all, you feel very alone.

But another part of you wants to stay in your house, the home you created with your spouse, the place where you raised your children, where you feel comfortable and secure. It’s a space you know, and you’re afraid that if you give up the home you love, you’ll feel more depressed and your health will decline even more.

Your family says they have the solution. They’ve found a nice place. You doubt it, because who wants to live in an old folks’ home? But you have no choice. Your children and grandchildren have been bringing you food and taking you to appointments, but they don’t have as much time to help as you need, and you don’t want them to keep worrying about your safety.

So your daughter takes you to visit the place where she wants you to move. To your surprise, the building doesn’t feel institutional. It’s actually beautiful. You enter a welcome area where you’re greeted by kind people. From there, you enter the Community Center, a lively hub like the Main Street of your youth, where there’s a café, a beauty salon, a health club, doctor’s office, chapel—all kinds of amenities in one place. The Community Center opens onto an interior courtyard, and from there is The Park, with flowers and trees, a fountain, a walking path, and plenty of benches and chairs.

This is the vision of David Schonberg, an assisted living owner/operator who creates communities where people who have dementia feel welcome. He designs and builds pioneering memory care facilities from the ground up, and is in the process of building Beau Provence in Mandeville, LA just outside of New Orleans. “When you walk through the door,” he says, “you will have two or three acres of freedom to explore.”

Exploration is important for people who have memory care needs. While people with dementia are commonly considered to “wander” and “rummage,” the act of movement shows a profound remaining ability—the ability to walk—which, Schonberg believes, must be encouraged, as it's one way for a person to maintain physical and emotional health.

The act of searching also shows a drive to find home, which is not necessarily a physical house from the person’s past, Schonberg says. Rather, home for all of us is often more a feeling of safety and belonging. And a nourishing space can give a person with dementia the opportunity to find that feeling again. And with that feeling, the negative behaviors associated with memory loss and frustration can diminish.

So what defines a nourishing space?

“When I work with builders and designers to create dementia-friendly environments,” Schonberg says, “I think about the abilities of our residents and the things they enjoy. My Schonberg Neighborhood Design offers incremental levels of care that match individual resident needs. That is, we build around the cognitive levels of our residents, so that we can provide more help for people in the late stages of dementia, more independence for people in the early stages, and the just-right supports at every stage of the disease.”

To achieve this at Beau Provence, Schonberg and dementia care consultant Kim Warchol created two neighborhoods, Pontchartrain and Fontainbleu, which flank the Community Center and The Park. So if you were the person in the early stages of dementia described above and you came to live at Beau Provence, the Pontchartrain neighborhood would be your home. Your living quarters would be in Pontchartrain, and your friends and neighbors would have similar abilities and interests. You might have lunch with a couple who share your passion for mystery novels, then explore the Therapeutic Garden with a woman who, like you, has always loved caring for roses. A memory care coordinator and highly trained memory support staff would be available around the clock to help you get to appointments, manage your medications, and stay happy and healthy. You'd build strong relationships with your neighbors, as well as with staff members who are committed to ensuring your comfort, safety, and best ability to function. 

As your needs evolve, you would move to the Fontainbleu neighborhood, where your neighbors would again share your abilities, and even more help and support from staff would be on hand. And no matter what your needs are, the rest of the community would be yours to call home as well. You could enjoy dinner and a movie in the café and the Community Center, participate in activities you like that are adapted to your abilities, and in The Park, you might attend a barbecue, play with a visiting dog, or push your grandchild on the swing set.

Beau Provence promises to be a haven for people who have dementia, and a resource for families and the New Orleans community. The public will be invited to attend activities and events at Beau Provence, and the Schonberg Alzheimer’s Education and Support Center will be open to families and community members, filled with books, videos, and interactive software to help everyone understand how best to support people with dementia throughout every stage of the disease.

The cutting-edge facility is set to open in September 2014. Keep an eye here on the CPI Blog for more information to come about the development and opening of Schonberg's standard-setting new community.


Images from Beau Provence's Facebook page.