Saturday, May 28 , 2016, 4:15 am | Overcast 57º

Alzheimer’s Care at Villa Alamar: A Tradition of Care with Love, Dignity

By Elaine Harris for Villa Alamar |

A special home exists in Santa Barbara for families in need of residential Alzheimer’s/dementia care. Since 1996, Villa Alamar has provided loving, residential care to individuals with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

Villa Alamar on East Alamar Avenue in Santa Barbara provides 24-hour care for people with memory loss, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. (Villa Alamar photo)
Villa Alamar on East Alamar Avenue in Santa Barbara provides 24-hour care for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. (Villa Alamar photo)

Villa Alamar, located just a block off State Street at 45 E. Alamar Ave. in Santa Barbara, offers 24-hour licensed care to 43 residents. The homelike environment fosters independence and social interaction among residents, family and caregivers.

Under the hands-on direction of Administrator Jacqueline “Jackie” Marston, Villa Alamar continues to adhere to the mission statement “to create a joyful environment for persons with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Our commitment is to the dignity of the individual in an environment where their physical, mental and spiritual needs are met and their contributions to our lives are acknowledged.”

Marston is well known in caregiving circles as the “dementia diva,” and she continues a personal and professional commitment to the needs of family members needing quality dementia care at a time when experience and thoughtful insight into the disease is most critical. Marston also contributes her time to caregiver and family support groups, as well as local hospice agencies. Her smile and endless hugs spread a feeling of comfort and joy during the difficult behavioral moments and challenges that define dementia.

Current statistics provided by the Alzheimer’s Association show Alzheimer’s disease is an increasing condition that affects approximately 5.4 million Americans. The condition is most common by age 65, but it can strike early and is diagnosed in individuals as young as 40 to 50 years old (early onset). By age 75, the odds of getting Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia are 1 in 7, and by age 85 the number increases to 1 in 4.

The term dementia is not a disease, but a description of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, thinking or other cognitive skills that reduces an individual’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia (60 to 80 percent), followed by vascular dementia, which is often the result of a stroke. Brain injury and diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s that damage nerve cells are also common causes. Thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies may also cause certain types of dementia.

Many wonder whether they or a loved one may be developing Alzheimer’s. The top 10 warning signs (source: Alzheimer’s Association) of Alzheimer’s or dementia include:

» 1) Memory loss that disrupts daily life — especially having trouble with recently learned information, or important dates and events. Asking for the same information over and over.

» 2) Challenges in planning or solving problems — problems with concentration, following a plan or working with numbers. For example, following a familiar recipe or paying monthly bills.

» 3) Difficulty completing daily tasks — a common example is having trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or how to play a familiar game.

» 4) Confusion with time or place — someone with Alzheimer’s may lose track of dates, or may forget where they are or how they got there.

» 5) Trouble understanding visual images — difficulty reading or judging distances.

» 6) Trouble with words (speaking or writing) — one may stop in the middle of a conversation, repeat themselves or have trouble remembering the right word.

» 7) Misplacing things — this is a common warning sign, and is often characterized by putting things in unusual places (keys in refrigerator, etc.), or thinking things are being stolen.

» 8) Decreased or poor judgment — often with money matters or personal hygiene.

» 9) Withdraw from work or social activities — a person may remove themselves from social activities, sports teams or hobbies.

» 10) Changes in mood or personality — one may become confused, depressed or anxious, or get upset when out of their comfort zone.

When these types of memory issues arise, it is best to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and care. The Alzheimer’s Association’s nationwide chapters and website offer an invaluable source of information and can connect you with the resources you need to cope with the symptoms and challenges of Alzheimer’s. A free 24-hour hotline provides referral and care by professionals in 170 languages at 800.272.3900.

Planning ahead by exploring living arrangements and care for your loved one with Alzheimer’s is very important when it comes time to make the appropriate care decision. Families must consider and review their current and future needs regarding medication options (need for 24-hour medical care), dietary and nutritional concerns, behavior and sleep patterns, safety and wandering, personal care, safe mobility and outings, and of course, physical and social activities.

Alzheimer’s disease affects every individual differently; Villa Alamar creates a personalized program of care to meet the needs, lifestyle and preferences of each resident. Families are grateful to have experienced, competent care available through the specially trained and devoted caregivers. A primary goal is to provide positive and effective care in an environment that is safe, nurturing and familiar as well as stimulating.

“Wonderful Alzheimer’s care. We are so relieved to find a home for Mom, where her dignity and quality of life is supported and staff really cares. We sincerely appreciate all you do.” — Resident family, Villa Alamar.

Villa Alamar activity director Joyce Broome encourages each resident to socialize and build friendships. (Villa Alamar photo)
Villa Alamar activity director Joyce Broome encourages each resident to socialize and build friendships. (Villa Alamar photo)

For over 14 years, Villa Alamar’s activity director Joyce Broome coordinates activities designed to entertain while encouraging each resident to socialize, build friendships and provide a daily source of inspiration and meaning in their lives.

Classes and activities are scheduled every day of the week and feature a diverse schedule of music and guest appearances. Dr. Ray Tischer has devoted his talents to Villa Alamar for many years, gracefully playing viola while leading residents through tai chi classes — an especially tender and inspiring activity.

Dr. Tischer is renowned for his marriage of music and movement, and is an incredibly accomplished performer. He has played solo chamber music from Carnegie Hall to Hong Kong City and numerous points between. He has performed with entertainment giants including, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Natalie Cole, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Garth Brooks, Diana Ross, Jimmy Page/Robert Plant, Metallica, Aerosmith and Diana Krall, as well as being featured in more than 1,200 motion picture soundtracks, TV series and commercials.

In addition to his classes and busy schedule, Dr. Tischer also contributes his time to the Cottage Hospital Center for Brain Fitness nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals maintain brain fitness and help recover working memory, significant cognitive skills and physical balance.

A LIVE MUSIC MATINEE at Villa Alamar with Dr. Tischer and residents was held Sunday. Residents made music by playing together on various musical instruments. They have been actively participating with Broom and Dr. Tischer in many different music therapy activities. For more information, call Broom at Villa Alamar at 805.682.9345 or Dr. Tischer at 818.262.3741.

“We are so happy to find you and see Dad’s love of music return. We thank you!” — Resident family, Villa Alamar.

Health, fitness and social activities are also a priority. Villa Alamar supports a fitness program created specifically for seniors. The Live 2B Healthy program by Chandra Carr is offered regularly and helps improve balance, flexibility and health. The program is lead by trained fitness professionals and offers many benefits for residents through increased mobility and overall wellness.

Staff and residents dress up for one of many theme days. (Villa Alamar photo)
Staff and residents dress up for one of many theme days. (Villa Alamar photo)

Social hour kicks off in the afternoons and residents enjoy the sing-a-longs, current events and many forms of live music. Travel movies, matinees and the classics are also a big favorite! Throughout the year staff and caregivers join the fun by dressing up for “theme” days, such as western day, Hawaiian day and silly hat day, and hosting holiday parties and luncheons. Residents and guests may also enjoy the peace and tranquility of the lush patio and garden walkways.

Clearly, the best time to research residential care options is sooner rather than later. When comparing care facilities, begin with taking a personal tour. Here you can note how the staff members interact with residents: Is it a relaxed and comfortable environment, and is it clean and safe? Detailed observation should include the staff’s experience in caring for many stages of dementia. What is staff to resident ratio? Is it secure, and does it offer enclosed patios and outdoor gardens? What is the licensed occupancy, and what activities are provided for residents? During your tour, it is important to keep a helpful checklist of what you observe, and include your families’ personal needs.

If you are looking for Alzheimer’s/dementia care in Santa Barbara, a tour of Villa Alamar can answer many questions and ease concerns. Please contact Marston to schedule a free, confidential consultation and tour by calling 805.682.9345. For more information, click here or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

— Elaine Harris represents Villa Alamar.

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