Cultivating the “Gardens” of Memory

An expanding community resource for caring for memory loss

Memory loss is isolating. Scary. Foreign. If you or your loved one have experienced it, you know you need support. But, where exactly does someone get help? What are the medications and personal care issues? Are they safe for you to run out and do an errand at home? How can I manage my life and still provide quality for my loved one?

Luckily, there a nearby resource. One of those people, is Christine Rachmaciej, of Rockridge. When she speaks of the Gardens Neighborhood for Memory Support, she’s not strictly speaking from her director of sales and marketing role. (And if she is, she really loves the community’s mission: Supporting our residents and their families with our dedicated staff and financial ability to provide comfort, security and an abundant life.”

In her time at Rockridge, Rachmaciej has observed everyone’s path to memory care can take a different route, but she has definitely noted a common origin: The family doctor.

“They may bring their spouse or parent to the doctor's, and they're saying, I'm getting exhausted. Once people start feeling overwhelmed, the doctors pick up on that. The doctors are really the resource: They'll say, why don't you start looking into help at home or a respite? Even though they may be reminded to take care of themselves as well, they do not know the benefits yet of having a little help and free time.

Rachmaciej is earnest in taking it one step further. “I think that it's really good for people to know that the first step really is the hardest. But, you are never alone. There are many support groups and workshops to help navigate what is available for when you may need more help. Talking with other people who are also learning to navigate the unknown creates a sense of relief and friendship.

Rachmaciej could talk about the key physical attributes of the Gardens in its new and desirable first-floor location, at length. But here’s a quick summary:

  • For over 10 years, Gardens Neighborhood for Memory Support was operating on the third floor: 16 suites, one hallway with assisted living and daily trips out to the gardens.
  • Today, the Memory Support is offered on the first floor, with 26 suites because of increased need. Rachmaciej adds, “It's a more desirable floor because it allows people to go in and out of the building at their leisure to the courtyard to get fresh air to independently change up their routine.”
  • It is a beautiful space with lots of natural light and wide hallways, to encourage interaction.
  • All are private suites, which include a living space and bathroom.
  • There are couches, chairs, a fish tank and piano to enjoy.
  • All meals are served in the dining room. “The staff sits and eats together with residents and are able to talk one on one and make it an enjoyable time,” says Rachmaciej.
  • It is fully assisted, offering personal care, medication management, reminders, redirection, daily routines and cultural arts. They also build in hydration with social activities.
  • The staff is educated in dementia and Alzheimer’s and uses that knowledge to customize the service plan of each resident. The staff becomes an extension of family, and is there to listen and learn.

When it comes to the non-physical, you can sense that attachment to residents runs straight through to the marketing department. “It's small enough to know the residents that live here, that a smile, or a touch on the shoulder is what they may need. It is a beautiful space where our residents are able to live as independent as their ability.

That engagement runs through training, as witnessed even on the Rockridge Facebook page. Amid the monthly activity schedule (choral rehearsal, exercise, hair salon), you’ll spy a photo of Rachmaciej and Gardens Program Director Brenda Gilbert, dressed for a virtual dementia tour as part of our education training. “It simulates what someone with a dementia or a related process goes through on a daily basis,” says Rachmaciej. “So with the goggles on that are blurred, they also put these kind of bumpy things in our shoes to throw off our gait. They put on gloves where two fingers were tied together so it would make it hard to tie or button. They put on headphones, and we went into this dark room. They had given us four things to do while we were in there. And they said them fast. With your eyesight not being the best, and your dexterity not being the best, and not feeling great because you have pain in your feet, it was hard to remember and go through those things as a typical person - it floored me when I took it.”

The exercise truly has an impact.

“I was very emotional after,” says Rachmaciej. “I felt overwhelmed. I was trying to process with my own abilities and could not accomplish the tasks. I decided next time I visit the Gardens, I'm going to stand for a minute. I'm going to listen a little longer and know that my visit will depend on what the needs of that resident will be. This is really a reminder that we are all moving so fast, and that it does take an amazing staff to be patient, kind and educated. “

If there is breaking news coming out of the Gardens, it is this: There are openings, and there will soon be help for even those who don’t reside at Rockridge.

Already a silver sponsor with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Springfield, Mass. chapter, “We are working with them to become a monthly site for people to come in, meet, share resources, and talk about their experiences. That is our ongoing focus,” adds Rachmaciej.

If you are interested in speaking with Christine Rachmaciej to learn more about memory care, or a possible 90-day respite, call (413) 586-2902, email crachmaciej@rockridgema.org, or visit http://www.rockridgema.org/