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More than ‘cookie-cutter memory care’: Copper Ridge in Sykesville helps seniors find strength

Soft notes ring from black and white keys, telling members of the Copper Ridge choir that practice is about to begin.

Nancy Cortner responds to the piano with a few la, la, las, and the seven women in a semicircle around her crack open their choir books. Cortner struggles for a moment to find her page, then Executive Director Rusty Mitchell steps in to assist.


A chorus of unique voices fills the room as the choir starts to sing the Christmas classic, “O Holy Night.”

These women are just a few of the visitors to and residents of Copper Ridge in Sykesville, one of 26 campuses of Acts Retirement-Life Communities along the East Coast. Every resident of Copper Ridge has at least one thing in common — memory impairment.


There are 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, and by 2050, this number is expected to approach 14 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, according to the association.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, but the staff at Copper Ridge are focused on the people with memory loss every day.

Copper Ridge has been around for 25 years, according to Mitchell, and the facility serves more than 120 residents ranging in age from late 50s to early 100s. Copper Ridge provides assisted living options as well as skilled nursing services, Mitchell said.

“We support them thorough the continuum,” he said.

Memory care has changed over the years, according to Mitchell, and more places like Copper Ridge are offering a home-like environment with engaging activities.

“There’s more than just the cookie-cutter memory care," Mitchell said.

One afternoon in November at Copper Ridge, the fireplace warmed a sitting room adorned with autumn-themed decorations. In one room, women practiced Christmas songs for the upcoming holiday party, while in another, others painted pictures next to a cage housing a mother bunny and her babies.

Lou Seidel of Randallstown brings his wife Gloria to Copper Ridge three days a week. Copper Ridge is not just for the people who live there, Mitchell said; they have a social club for visitors, too.


“She absolutely enjoys it,” Seidel said. “This is the place for her.”

While his wife has fun at Copper Ridge, Seidel takes the time to clean the house and shop for groceries, he said.

Kate Collins, of the choir, praised their enthusiastic director, Braeden McKibben, Music Therapist-Board Certified. McKibben serves as the recreation and engagement coordinator.

Collins also participates in chair yoga and drum circle at Copper Ridge.

“I thoroughly enjoy it,” Collins said of the choir. “We leave here feeling up and giddy.”

Music isn’t just a fun activity, it’s one of the ways in which staff reach people with memory loss.


“It taps into their deepest memories,” said Kathleen Lieberson, director of life engagement.

Copper Ridge conducted an in-house study and invited residents to listen to music to see how they responded, Lieberson said. Relatives of the residents told the staff names of songs their family members held dear to their hearts, such as a wedding song or a popular tune from their younger days.

When someone’s song played, Lieberson said, residents reacted strongly and were much more engaged. Now, if a staff member notices a resident is anxious or seems to withdraw, they can use the playlist designed for that person to soothe them, according to Lieberson.

When activities aren’t running, there is always the 70-inch interactive computer full of entertainment options. The computer runs a program, “It’s Never 2 Late,” which allows people to watch classic televisions shows, attend religious services, explore the world, play trivia games and more, Lieberson demonstrated. Staff or family members can also create personalized profiles for each resident to save their favorite applications. They also have the program on tablets, she said.

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Renee Joyner, director of assisted living, said she tries to focus on what residents can do instead of what they can’t.

“You can still learn and do and find things that bring you joy,” Joyner said. “It’s more about doing with instead of for.”


Fred Klaunberg, formely of Cockeysville, finds joy watching Dean Martin shows in his room at Copper Ridge. Klaunberg said he enjoys attending the religious ceremonies and musical performances at the facility.

“It’s unique,” he said.

Signs of memory loss may include forgetfulness and stress in large group settings, according to Lieberson. She recommends people consult their doctor if they suspect they are suffering from memory loss.

Lieberson said she wants people who have loved ones with memory loss to know they can still live full lives, though they might operate a little differently.

“You can still do things,” Lieberson said. “There are strengths.”