Proposed Alzheimer's center offers hope


Milton Vane wanted to believe that his wife, Corabelle, wasn't ready to be placed in a nursing home.

He had cared for the once-vital woman for five years, assuming household chores she couldn't remember how to do, devising ways to mark a wall calendar so she wouldn't forget important events or what day it was, and shuttling her to doctors for tests.

He witnessed her rapid mental deterioration, and braced himself for the day when she no longer would know who he was. The

companionship they had enjoyed through a quarter-century of marriage had died because she wasn't capable of offering it.

Milton, 69, a Finksburg resident and retired industrial engineer, was willing to endure the ordeal that also had become a struggle to save his own health. But he respected the opinion of Corabelle's Johns Hopkins doctor, Peter V. Rabins, a noted authority on Alzheimer's disease.

Rabins bluntly told Milton that Corabelle, 76, should be placed in a care home as much for his sake as for hers. Milton had suffered a mild stroke and, upon the insistence of his two daughters, had himself evaluated for depression.

"I felt it was the right decision," said Milton, who placed Corabelle at the Westminster Nursing and Convalescent Center in October 1990. "You never come to the point you feel it's the right time. You always feel like if you took care of her last week or month, you can take care of her next week or month. Yet in your heart, you know it's getting worse.

"I'm an in-control-type person. With this disease, you can't be in control. The disease is in control."

Episcopal Health Ministries Inc. plans to build a facility near the Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville tailored to Alzheimer's patients and related disorders. Episcopal Ministries to the Aging Inc., the parent organization, operates Fairhaven.

Like Milton, many families face difficult decisions, suffer from stress and sleep deprivation and restrict their own lives in order to care for a relative with Alzheimer's, a job so demanding Rabins labeled it "The 36-Hour Day" in his book on the disease. Compounding the issue, those afflicted with Alzheimer's often maintain physical health and could live 20 years with the disease, for which there is no known cure or treatment.

The national Alzheimer's Association estimates that 10 percent of people over 65, and 47.2 percent of people over 85, suffer from Alzheimer's, a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behavior. About 1,760 people in Carroll suffer from Alzheimer's, based on those estimates.

Copper Ridge, the proposed facility, would have a capacity of 165 full-time residents in private rooms -- 60 for domiciliary care, or assisted living, and 105 for comprehensive care, which would include skilled nursing, therapy and social services. It also would

have 25 slots for adult day care with transportation provided, and an assessment clinic for those in early stages of dementia.

As a condition for state approval, at least 50 percent of those accepted at Copper Ridge must be eligible for Medicaid, the public health assistance program for the poor. Copper Ridge would be open to applicants outside Carroll.

EHM Vice President Carol L. Kershner said the project will incorporate recent research on creating the optimum living environment for Alzheimer's patients. She researched the project by visiting 17 facilities in nine states.

"We're the only facility we know about in the country that would have all three levels of care at one facility," she said.

County Bureau of Aging Chief Janet B. Flora said the project is "very much needed" because of the range of services it would provide for a rapidly increasing elderly population. Such a facility could help ease the guilt of those having difficulty coping with Alzheimer's patients at home.

"There's a stigma about placing a relative in an institution," she said. "Copper Ridge would deal with that."

Milton Vane said his own health and outlook on life have improved since he made his decision.

"I think some people put off making the decision perhaps because there isn't a facility like [Copper Ridge]," he said.

Copper Ridge's goals would be to keep residents active and involved, create a homelike living atmosphere, organize activities small groups and de-emphasize other institutional qualities.

"We want to keep people meaningfully engaged so their sense of self-worth continues," said Kershner. EHM will work with regulatory agencies to determine what activities, such as helping in a kitchen, may be allowed, she said.

Copper Ridge, which would be on 14 acres facing Obrecht Road, would cost an estimated $11 million to build, and about $20 million overall, Kershner said. EHM intends to borrow money through a bond sale for the 121,000-square-foot project. Projected daily rates for non-Medicaid clients would be $135 for comprehensive care, $131 for domiciliary care and $47 for adult day care.

EHM has filed a Certificate of Need with the state, a prerequisite for approval, and must go through a county plan review. Kershner said Copper Ridge could be built in about 18 months once approved. Construction won't affect the Sykesville ball fields, which are on EHM property, she said.

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