Experts from D.C. Alzheimer's meeting tour Carroll County senior care facility


During a visit to Copper Ridge in Sykesville, delegates from the World Alzheimer's Congress in Washington saw a treatment center for dementia patients that offers a variety of programs and services, research, education and clinic facilities, all in a residential setting.

The tour drew 29 physicians, social workers and other health care professionals from 10 countries, many of them taking notes and snapping photos.

About 5,000 scientists from around the world are attending the largest-ever Alzheimer's conference in the nation's capital. Several of the Copper Ridge staff were scheduled to address the conference before it ends today.

At the Sykesville center, the group saw typical resident activities, learned about a research and clinic partnership with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and visited the outpatient diagnostic center. They asked about costs, staffing and daily operations. Many left with thick information packets.

"We want to give you a flavor for the programs in place for treating all levels of dementia," said Carmel Roques, vice president of Episcopal Ministries to the Aging, parent company of Copper Ridge.

Few on the tour had seen a building designed specifically to help enhance memory. The $17 million, 100,000-square-foot building opened six years ago.

"There are so many nice areas, nicely sized," said Marlene Mahn, a social worker for the Chicago-based National Alzheimer's Association. "Here, there is not just one huge room after another like so many other facilities have."

Short hallways, country kitchens and comfortable dens give each of the building's four wings the feel of a home rather than the look of an institution. Garden rooms with wicker furniture open onto courtyards and gardens, with paths that allow residents to enjoy the outdoors in safety. In one wing, the aroma of cookies baking drew the tour to the kitchen, where a resident offered them samples.

Natural light pours in from nearly 2,000 windows. Internal windows in kitchens and activity rooms offer residents walking in the hallways a look at what is happening in those areas.

"This building is designed to reduce environmental stress," said Roques. "There is a definite effort to keep the environment calm. There is no overhead paging. Carpeting is everywhere and we have a lot of natural light."

The sameness of each area is designed to reinforce the 126 residents' sense of well-being and allow them to live in the least restrictive environment possible, she said.

"This building does not look like or feel like a nursing home," said Dr. Buzz Baker, medical director of Copper Ridge. "We wed the social and medical to provide the maximum support and maintain the residents at their highest level of functioning. We also want to carry to the public the messages we have learned in this building."

As part of their work week, each of the nearly 150 employees is involved in resident activities and spends 30 minutes one-on-one with a resident. They play cards or board games, sing, dance or undertake a cooking project.

Families of the residents are encouraged to visit frequently, even daily, with children and pets. Helena Cheyne visits every day to see her 72-year-old husband, Leland, who has Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The couple often spend time in his suite, surrounded by family photographs and memorabilia from their 51-year marriage. They usually have lunch together in a small dining room.

"Copper Ridge is as good as things can be for us," she said. "The staff is so loving with residents and gives them the reassurances they need."

"We have no residential day care specifically designed for Alzheimer's," said Tony Lu of the Alzheimer's Disease Foundation in Malaysia. "It is good for us on this trip to find out how it is done here and the features that you offer."

Many parts of the world have little or no specialized treatment dedicated to Alzheimer's patients, but they are quickly realizing the scope of the disease, for which no known cure exists. It afflicts 4 million Americans and 8 million people in the rest of the world. But the number of Alzheimer's victims is increasing so rapidly that more than 22 million people worldwide will be affected by 2025, experts at the conference said.

Lu commented repeatedly on the cleanliness at Copper Ridge, and Dr. Martina Nasrun of Indonesia praised the attention to detail and the safety features.

"This building addresses most problems for patients and their families," said Lu. "I think it is definitely doable in our country."

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