Make-believe windows, 3-D sofas that jump out from the walls, textured lace and imaginative nostalgic posters transform one of the day rooms at the Riverside PACE facility on Mercury Boulevard in Hampton. A recent addition to the building that houses an extensive day-care program for adults, "Memory Lane" has 18 participants with varying degrees of cognitive impairment. Most have Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
The importance of the surroundings in creating a calming, familiar environment ranks high with the department's administrators who hired artist Amanda "Mandy" Smith to create a distinctive world. She worked in segments over several months and only recently completed the project. "It has come a long way but I could still do more. I could keep going, but you have to stop somewhere," she says.
Smith graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University and works as a freelance artist doing portraits and murals. "We wanted a vintage feel for it," she says, one that would combine 2-D and 3-D effects. She credits her mother, Jane Stockdale, an occupational therapist at the center, with the introduction of the 3-D elements. "Did you see the pillow and the blanket over the sofa, and even the cookies on the tray? Amanda made them so they could touch them. She had so many ideas," says Stockdale, returning the admiration. She dubs the room "the parlor" for its old-timey feel. The movie-style posters by the entrance hark back to Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" and Louis Armstrong, people and movies that are familiar to the participants. ""A lot of them remember them. It's a conversation piece," says Vanessa Royster, the lead nursing assistant on staff.
The background walls are green, with bold complementary stripes painted by Smith with the help of her family. She then started by creating three "windows" along one wall with similar views of water and greenery, the painted curtains held back by real ropes. Each window has seating in front, done in 3-D trompe l'oeuil style. The latter initially caused some problems with participants trying to sit in the comfortable-looking plush sofas and chairs, but staff members say they've now grown accustomed to the optical trick.
Smith used 3-D acrylic paint and fabric paint to create some of the effects but she also supplemented the paintings with different fabrics to enhance tactile sensations. There's a hanging home-made quilt, for example, that recedes into a 2-D drawing. The rope holding the curtains is real; there's delicate lace in the painting of a cloth-covered table; and on the bureau shelf there's a plate holding inviting-to-the-touch cookies. "I love the art work. They can feel the different textures," says Leslie Terry, a certified nursing assistant, who has worked at the facility for eight months. "They really like the 'seats' in front of the windows."
The painted bureau, a globe and statuette perched aloft, masks the emergency exit door. Smith couldn't paint over the sign, much as she wanted to, but instead surrounded it with a TV frame. Unlike most facilities catering to those with dementia and other cognitive impairment issues, Memory Lane is not a locked facility. The inside door is also disguised by a painting of an artist's easel with a picture in progress. A shiny brass handle on the right attracts attention away from the inconspicuous metal handle on the left. That way, staff members can allow participants to walk the perimeter — as many of them like to do — without constantly guiding them away or telling them that they must turn around. Smith says that she has since been asked to disguise doors at other facilities. She's working on one at Warwick Forest using a family beach scene and has been contracted to do more at a PACE facility in Richmond.
"It's one of the more ingenious things about the room," says Sharon Petitjean, medical director of the facility. "No-one has ever bothered the doors. At other facilities the staff often has to chase after them. They don't become barriers; instead they're comforting and calming." Petitjean, who says that Smith went "above and beyond" in the décor, notes how the different textures encourage participants to interact with their environment in a way that they usually don't. Already the room's ambience has changed the behavior of two participants. "We used to have to chase them all day long. No-one's chasing any more. They're getting them to participate."
Other environmental adjustments that she and social worker Carole Curtiss are working towards are the use of music, aromatherapy and full-spectrum lighting to stimulate positive behavior.
While a couple of participants nap in lounge chairs, others are exercising to music, working on puzzles and building with Legos. A couple of aides take turns walking with the participants. "The process was to give a homely feel, to make it more comforting for them," says Smith, who typically worked in the evenings from 6 to 10 p.m. and at weekends when the room was unoccupied
"We wanted to make a homey environment in a setting that's familiar to them," says Curtiss. "We wanted it to be interactive, like the hats on the wall." She indicates a display of several hats, some are art pieces while others are for participants to use for dressing up; there's a vanity where they can then admire the effect. "It's very important for them to use their senses," says Curtiss. In one corner there's an antique bassinet with a doll; many of the participants enjoy caring for the "baby" and, Curtiss says, can be encouraged to participate in other activities through such caretaking.
"I would love to have some of the other participants who aren't as impaired see the 'parlor,'" says Stockdale. "Amanda really added some life to it."
A Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, PACE provides a wide variety of services in order to keep participants in their homes rather than in residential facilities. These services include physician services, physical, occupational, speech and recreational therapies, personal care, home care, prescription drugs, medical equipment, social services and transportation.
Information: 4107 W. Mercury Blvd., Hampton; call Donna Fitzgerald, 251-7997, or Kathleen Grella, 251-7999.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun