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Volunteering in memory care in a retirement community can be daunting.

This type of work is for perseverant and committed individuals who strive to make an impact in the lives of older adults. And every once in a while, they get to experience a breakthrough.

Patti Crookston, a resident of Kroft Commons independent living at Chapel Hill Community in Canal Fulton, Ohio, meets one-on-one with residents of the healthcare center. Just more than a year after moving to Chapel Hill, Patti, a retired Spanish teacher, is involved in the assisted living and memory support neighborhoods on the Chapel Hill campus by volunteering. 

“I love volunteering,” Patti said. “I’m just using the talents that God gives me. I was looking for something to fill my time and my spirit.”

When Patti met Tom*, he immediately began speaking to her in Spanish. Before that, Tom was communicating in broken sentences. As a child, Tom’s family primarily spoke Spanish in their home. Patti learned much more about him once she began communicating in his native language.

“I found out from the aides and nurses that he looked forward to my visits,” Patti said. “I could get him to do anything they needed him to do. I would compromise with him and explain why it would help him to follow the nurses’ requests.” 

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have found evidence that the processing of music and language depend on the same brain systems. For Patti, that just makes sense. 

“When you start thinking about how the brain functions, the idea is to keep your whole brain going,” she said. “Doing things like music and art and languages encompass the whole brain because you can use creativity. As a teacher, I would use music in the classroom because it would help students remember or help calm them.”

Patti hopes her story will spark interest in others to share their language skills with older adults living with dementia. “It’s about them. It’s not about me. If I could just help one person, I’ll know that I was able to make a difference.”

Patti is a volunteer with the evidence-based Comfort Matters program for dementia care that United Church Homes has begun rolling out at its healthcare communities. Chapel Hill was the first United Church Homes community and the 14th in the nation to become certified.

The community recently was named the 16th best senior living community in Ohio by U.S. News & World Report. On the campus of the life plan community are leaders who are dedicated to empowering people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

In December, Chapel Hill Memory Support Director Caroline James participated in a call center for
A Journey Through Alzheimer’s, the annual one-hour special by television station WCMH in Columbus. Caroline answered questions from people who are experiencing their own Alzheimer’s journeys with their loved ones. 

United Church Homes was proud
to co-sponsor the special as a
leader in memory care support services in Ohio, and Caroline was an easy choice to represent United Church Homes. 

“A lot of callers seemed to just want to be heard and get confirmation that they’re not alone,” Caroline said.

Chapel Hill Community, like other United Church Homes campuses that provide safe, secure memory care neighborhoods, offers three evidence-based life enrichment programs as part of its commitment to provide abundant life for those living with dementia. The programs are Music & Memory, Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) and Comfort Matters. 

United Church Homes became a Music & Memory partner in 2015, with trained caregivers creating personalized music playlists on iPods for residents. The playlists can tap deep memories not lost to dementia and can reawaken residents, enabling those who are withdrawn to become social.

Next came OMA, an award-winning, intergenerational program for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia-related illnesses, designed to provide residents with the creative freedom to expand their choices and sense of control. OMA uses art and self-expression, coupled with person-directed care principles, to build a bridge across age and cognitive barriers.

United Church Homes has begun rolling out Comfort Matters training at its healthcare communities. Comfort Matters is a nationally recognized memory support program. It is a philosophy, a care practice and an evidenced-based accredited education program, offering a holistic and integrated approach to improve the quality of care and quality of life for people living with dementia.

Altogether, these programs offer hope and joy, opportunities for creative expression and a sense of peace for individuals and families. 

And sometimes, a breakthrough occurs in the least expected places, including the weekly worship services led by staff chaplains. Chaplain Rev. Erin McCreight from Chapel Hill reflects that these are soothing experiences for people living with dementia. Residents join together to sing hymns and church camp songs. Sometimes, they will just begin singing their favorites. 

At the end of each service, residents lift up joys and concerns in prayer. 

“They’ll pray for each other and staff. It’s really moving. It feeds my soul,” Rev. Erin said. 

*Name has been changed to respect the privacy of the individual

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