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Oak Cottage of Santa Barbara Opening to Care for Seniors with Memory Impairment

The De la Vina Street facility, housing up to 40 residents, will specialize in serving those with Alzheimer's disease and dementia

The Oak Cottage of Santa Barbara will open its doors soon on De la Vina Street for seniors with memory impairment.
The Oak Cottage of Santa Barbara will open its doors soon on De la Vina Street for seniors with memory impairment. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Behind a statuesque oak tree that overlooks De la Vina Street in Santa Barbara, a 40-unit building has been constructed that soon will be home to seniors with memory impairment.

The Oak Cottage of Santa Barbara at 1820 De la Vina St. will house up to 40 residents, and aims to fill a growing demand for specialized care for those with memory impairment such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Joe Franken, the facility's executive director who formerly worked at Casa Dorinda, gave Noozhawk a tour of the new facility and talked about what he hopes Oak Cottage will bring to the lives of seniors.

The Craftsman Bungalow-style building, which hosted an open house last Saturday, is flourishing with touches that pay homage to history in a way that the staff hope residents will be able to in their own lives, remembering the past while enjoying the present.

The preservation of the lot's historic oak is an example, along with the display of old copies of the Santa Barbara News-Press from the 1950s that were found during construction of the project and are now framed in the lobby.

Three homes were located on the lot before Oak Cottage was built, and the foundations of those homes were broken up into fragments and now make up the walls lining each side of the driveway.

Within the facility, there are 11 private rooms that have their own bathrooms, as well as 29 rooms that have individual bedrooms, but each pair shares a bathroom.

Each room has a small kitchen area, bathroom and bedroom, all of which are ADA accessible, and residents are encouraged to bring their own furniture, photos and other items that would remind them of home, Franken said.

Each floor has a communal living room area, and a full-service kitchen sits on the ground floor of the building where meals for the residents are prepared.

Santa Barbara residents Mark and Valerie Maldonado purchased the property, and the project began seven years ago.

The facility will be overseen by McGeever Management, the same group that manages Heritage House in Goleta.

Franken said that many of the approaches Heritage House takes, including a family barbecue each month, will be part of the program at Oak Cottage to help encourage residents' families to visit and spend time there.

Joe Franken, executive director of The Oak Cottage of Santa Barbara, says "the more we can make the community family friendly, the more they'll stop in." (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

"The more we can make the community family friendly, the more they'll stop in," he said.

The approach at Oak Cottage is what Franken called "dementia capable care," which really means that staff are willing to work with a resident from wherever they are mentally.

"A person could be 90 years old, but in their mind, they are living the life of a 40-year-old," he said. "Wherever they are mentally, we'll try and stay with that."

The resident could be remembering what life was like for them at certain period in their life, so the staff will work to find out what year the person is experiencing, and will even talk to family to find out what the person was doing that year, the names and ages of their children then, and other key details.

"We're going to keep that dream going," he said. 

They'll even try to obtain photographs from family members from that time period to put up in their room to support what that person is experiencing.

Franken gave an example of a resident who may have formerly been a police officer on the nightshift at a certain point in his life and still believes that's what he's experiencing.

"If he worked the night shift, that could be why he's waking up at night," he said.

For that person, he may want to go to bed at 6 a.m. and wake up at noon, when he would be wanting breakfast, instead of the lunch that all of the other residents are eating.

"We can do that," he said, adding that those are small changes that can be made for each person that enhance the quality of life.

Franken even takes a positive tone with residents who might be prone to wander off, calling them "explorers," and points to a special winding path on the property that was created especially for these types of residents, to give them stimulation and experience.

"We look at what they can do, not what they can't," he said.

The center's rates are based on the level care and range from $7,000 to $8,000 monthly, based on how much care the person will need. 

The facility is also the only certified Music and Memory program in Santa Barbara, using the therapeutic power of music to help improve the awareness of people with dementia and Alzheimer's.

Each resident will get an iPod shuffle, pre-stocked with music from the "playlist of their life," Franken said, which will include songs that were meaningful to them.

"We want to know their playlist," he said.

Residents are kept secure on the property with a special "delayed egress" security system that beeps whenever residents try to open doors to the outside of the property or other areas.

A conference room is also located on the property, and is available for outside community groups to rent and use, Franken said.

The facility was waiting on its licensing certification to arrive in the mail, but Franken said the arrival would be imminent, and he expects to open the doors to seniors immediately after.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Each floor of The Oak Cottage of Santa Barbara has a communal living room area. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

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