Las Ventanas at Summerlin has opened the Ronald Reagan Memory Support Suites, a separate area specifically for those who are facing Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases and can no longer care for themselves.
The senior living facility already offered assisted living units for those residents who become less active due to aging, so this was a logical step, facility officials said. The Reagan Suites area was formerly eight existing homes at the not-for-profit continuing care community at 10401 W. Charleston Blvd.
The Las Ventanas Foundation Committee, comprising Las Ventanas residents, raised more than $1.5 million for the construction of the suites. The suites start at $5,700 per month, with long-term care insurance possibly covering some of that cost depending on the resident’s coverage.
“This is the fourth leg of the stool or the next level of living,” said Jonathan Boyar, executive director. “We identified there was a need not just in our community but in the greater community for memory services.”
The facts and figures surrounding Alzheimer’s are sobering. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 67 seconds. More than 5 million Americans live with the disease, but as the numbers rise, the association notes, they also fall as Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death.
“We take a ‘best friend’ approach, a household model,” Boyar said. “Our caregivers function as (house friend), so when we’re cooking meals, it’s our resident and their best friend cooking meals together, family-style. We are cleaning, we are organizing, and we’re doing it together. It’s a very social model with the focus on being in groups.”
Construction on the suites began in May 2015. The renovation/repurposing included construction issues such as the steel needed for reinforcing and addressing the vent and sewer systems. Theyofficially opened Jan. 25.
The $1.5 million facility has 16 individual suites, set up like studio apartments.
Before being placed, about 100 questions are asked of each resident going into the Reagan Suites to best match them with a best friend/housemate. The questions also allowed Las Ventanas to customize their lifestyle based on the things they like.
“The idea is to be very homelike, so we try to mimic that,” said Jessica Cobb, manager of the Reagan Suites. “If you sleep in, that’s OK. You can sleep in here. If lunch isn’t your thing, we’re not going to force you. Granted, we’re here to take care of you, too. … It’s very hard with dementia patients, because a lot of them will tell you ‘no’ to everything.”
Patients are engaged with social time, which can be crafts and dice games or discussing current events found in the newspaper. Music is also sometimes used to keep residents engaged.
“It’s not so much what we’re doing as it is keeping them involved and stimulated,” Cobb said.
One of those suites is occupied by Patricia Mullen, 82. Her husband, Warren, 86, spoke of the journey that brought them to this point in their lives. They met when he was in the military. He helped build nuclear weapons and later was an Army aviator, and she was from a small town and would attend dances. Patricia caught his eye right away.
“She was young, fresh-faced and bright-eyed,” he said, and then winked, adding, “plus, she was female.”
Their lives were similar to the movie “The Notebook.” Her parents didn’t approve of him, but her heart couldn’t say goodbye. They married in a civil ceremony and had four children. Warren missed all four births due to his military commitments.
After Warren retired from the military, the couple moved to Sun City Summerlin in 1996, happy to be in a place with no snow. In 2005, Patricia started showing signs of decreased mental faculties.
“The first thing I noticed was that she lost the ability to read maps,” Warren said. “She’d be holding it upside down. Then she couldn’t find the car in the parking lot.”
Patricia knew something was wrong when her eyesight was affected that same year. She was checked out by doctors who suspected she’d had either a stroke or a peripheral arterial occlusive.
In 2010, they both moved into Las Ventanas’ independent living section, where Warren cared for her. But a fall in 2012 landed him in the hospital for many months and required surgery to place 18 pins in his spine. He could no longer care for Patricia. So, she went into assisted living at Las Ventanas and was moved to the Reagan section when it opened.
“They look out for you (at Las Ventanas),” he said. “She’s in good hands here. … Certainly you have no better choice if you’re in Nevada. It’s progressive care. You’re here because you know something might happen to you, and if it does, here, they take care of you.”
Now, when he visits, Warren is never sure if she’ll recognize him, no longer sure if she realizes she’s even married, though sometimes she thinks he is her son.
“There’s not much we can do together,” he said. “I have a Kindle device, and I pick those books she might be interested in, and I read to her. She likes that.”
How is it when she misidentifies him?
“You get used to it,” he said. “If you wait a while, maybe she’ll recognize you. Maybe she will. Maybe she won’t.”
Meanwhile, just like in “The Notebook,” he spends as many as two hours a day reading to her, hoping for that glimmer of recognition.
Waiting list placement is available for Las Ventanas’ Life Care benefits plan residents, who can transfer to the suites based on their medical qualifications. Boyar said there is a select inventory of suites being held available specifically for those internal community residents.
To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-387-2949.