A Family Home

As we talk with families, one of the best compliments we receive is when they tell us that their loved one thinks they’re home. I was talking with a family member recently, and she shared, “I think my mom believes she’s in her childhood home because it was a ranch similar to this one.”

One of the main reasons I started Our Family Home was to give individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia a real home. A home with a kitchen table that tells the stories of the residents, families and caregivers who have shared meals together. A living room with a comfortable couch and views of a vibrant community with birds, squirrels and the occasional deer.

While some of the newer, larger memory care institutions may attract attention with state-of-the-art tracking technology or interior salons and pubs, we continue to find that what our residents desire more than any of these things is connection. We don’t need tracking technology because our caregivers are present and our homes are small. One of my top priorities is that we maintain our low 5:2 ratio of residents to caregivers at our homes.

However, connection isn’t just about being visible. It’s also about listening, caring and adjusting. We invest in training our caregivers to understand not just the needs of our residents but also to meet them where they are in their journey. We focus less on our schedules and more on theirs.

In a smaller home, we’re able to adjust easier to what is happening with our residents on any particular day. We work hard to build routines that bring comfort and familiarity, while also being flexible and agile enough to refine these measures when it makes sense. We recognize that we’re caring for people and that each person is special and unique.

We also realize that if we want to give our residents and our families more good days, we need to start with this day in our family home.

“My experience with Our Family Home has been completely different. The moment I walked in the door I knew it was the right place. It was open and airy. It felt familiar.” – Jolynn H.

“You made her feel like a person not a burden. You made her feel wanted and comfortable in her own home. This was her home and you were her family in all the ways that matter.” – Cindy S.

Forever Friends: The Story of Esther and Dottie

“It’s important to remember that Alzheimer’s and dementia affect the short-term memory first, so as soon as they saw each other their faces lit up. They recognized each other immediately,”  said Mary Carol.

Mary Carol’s mom, Dorothy, was a resident of Our Family Home when a family member noticed Dorothy’s cousin, Esther, in a photo posted by Our Family Home.

After a few phone calls, Mary Carol came to learn that both her mom and her cousin were residents and living only a block from each other. They quickly worked with the staff at both houses to reconnect them.

“It was so special. They took each other’s hands and recognized each other instantly. They talked about when they were young,” added Mary Carol. “My mom may not remember what she had for breakfast, but it’s amazing to hear her share stories about living on a farm growing up, bringing flowers to market and special lunches with their Godmother.”

Since reconnecting, Dorothy, who is 96 years old, and Esther, who recently celebrated her 101st birthday, continue to visit each other. “We took mom to visit Esther for her 101st birthday in a convertible. It was such a special day. It means a lot to me to see them together.”

While each family took a different route to find Our Family Home, they both believe in the residential home model and the importance of individualized care. “My advice to someone currently looking for care for a family member with memory disease is to find a place, like Our Family Home, that prioritizes respect, honor and love.”

“People often think that individuals with Alzheimer’s are gone, but they’re not. It’s helpful to speak about the past and connect something they are experiencing today with something they may have experienced earlier in their lives. Or, in our case, we were lucky to be able to connect mom with someone from her past.”



Meet Charles!

Employee Spotlight: Charles Smyser
Leadership Development 

What do you do for Our Family Home?  

My role is to coach Our Family Home caregivers on how to work with people with dementia. Using various Teepa Snow principles, I teach the staff techniques to work with our residents, create a calm environment, reduce triggers and decrease stress.

My work also focuses on life skills and leadership training for our caregivers and staff. This includes: awareness of life style factors that may ultimately lead to developing dementia, stress management skills, how healthy brains function, importance of sleep, skills for conducting difficult conversations, and most importantly, personal accountability and responsibility. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is stressful, so I want to help our caregivers manage their stress.

How long have you worked with Our Family Home? 

I started working with Our Family Home in 2011. 

What do you enjoy most about your work? 

The people. I enjoy working with caregivers and interacting with residents. I consider myself a caregiver advocate. I want to create a great environment for our staff so they create the same for our residents.  

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?  

I enjoy old movies and music. I will occasionally host a Sunday movie matinee with residents. I find the old comedies and movies with a lot of music resonate with residents. Seeing them connect with a movie or song is very special. I also love ballroom dancing. 

What have you learned working with Alzheimers patients/residents of Our Family Home?  

They are still people and it’s important to prioritize this. Because we are interacting so regularly with residents, we get to see some very special moments. We see their moments of clarity, connection and happiness, and it’s very special. I’m also reminded to explore ways to connect with residents on a personal level. I can relate to what they remember, so I will talk about historical events or just try to make them laugh.  

Have you had a personal experience with Alzheimers or dementia? 

Yes, my mother had dementia.  

How does OFH give residents and families more good days?

Our Family Home offers greater personal attention and engagement, which is so important with this disease. However much of my work is centered around the caregivers. When our caregivers are having more good days, they are even more focused on giving our residents more good days.

The Precious Weight of Caregiving

Our Family Home’s mission to foster More Good Days was built from a belief that we serve both our residents and their families. Not just one or the other. It is our goal that by doing what we can to give our residents more good days we are building trust with our families. We are also giving them a renewed piece of mind that their loved one is well-loved.  

I know first-hand what is involved in the care-taking of a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, and I know the toll it takes. I recall my personal experiences with my mom after her diagnosis and my grandparents. Now I see that same look on the faces of the families that tour our homes.  

As much as we care about the residents in our homes, we care just as deeply for their families. Particularly because we know research shows the impacts of full-time caregiving for people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia to be detrimental to caregivers.  

recent study from the University of Buffalo School of Nursing shows more than 90 percent of people caring for someone with dementia are suffering from poor sleep, which is linked to depression, heart disease, weight gain and premature death. This is due in part to the fact that sleep disturbances, anxiety and wandering are common experiences for most people with dementia. These sleep disturbances, which the study found occurred as often as four times per night, have a direct impact on the health of their caregivers.   

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as very high and more than 1 in 3 dementia caregivers say their health has gotten worse due to their care responsibilities. While these statistics can be saddening, there are also ways to help manage stress for caregivers. 

To help relieve some of the stress associated with caregiving:  

  • Find community resources, such as adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses or hospice, to help you.  
  • Join a support group or ask for help. It’s important to remember that caregivers need support for the mental, physical and emotional aspect of this journey too.  
  • Find time for yourself. While this doesn’t seem easy, it’s necessary. Everyone needs a break from time-to-time. Start by asking for help.  
  • Start taking better care of yourself. Visit your doctor regularly. Prioritize physical activity, eating healthy, relaxation and other forms of self-care. 
  • Become an educated caregiver and make appropriate legal and financial plans. Look for resources that may help you learn new techniques for caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. This may help you mitigate challenging episodes or emotions. Also, plan ahead. Looking toward the future can also ease the burden of care by addressing legal, financial and care decisions while the person with the disease is able to participate.  

 Source: Alzheimer’s Association 

If you’re having trouble providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia or find that it’s taking a toll on your own health, please ask for help. You can access the 24/7 helpline for the Alzheimer’s Association at 800-272-3900 or speak with one of our team members to learn about options for in- and out-of home care.