Residents, family members and staff converse during the open house of the Adith Miller and Roger Metz Manor Garden on June 21.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
Every morning, Dick Kowles makes his way across town to Winona Health, weaving around the hospital to an unassuming pair of buildings looking out over Lake Winona. For the past two years, Kowles has made the trip nearly every day to visit his wife, Rose, who now lives at the Adith Miller Manor, one of several facilities devoted to memory care.
Dick, a former biology professor at Saint Mary’s University for 40 years, transitioned to part-time work to help care for Rose for the last four years of his career, before retiring in 2012. He explained that he started noticing the little things –– missing keys, mistakes in the checkbook, and miscalculations –– which is when he started to stick by Rose’s side.
“Before this started, Rose was a wife to me, a mother to five kids, worked full time at Saint Mary’s University, ran an antique store on Main and Third [streets], took care of her elderly parents 100 miles away, and was instrumental in remodeling our house, an old schoolhouse, into what it is today. She did it all at the same time,” Dick said. “Following the dementia, a woman that was doing all of that couldn’t remember where anything was in the kitchen.”
Dementia is a general term for diseases that affect memory and mental ability, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s, and is one of the most common disorders among the elderly. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, dementia affects one in 14 people over the age of 65, and one in six over the age of 80.
At first, families often care for those with dementia personally, helping them through their day and the struggles that come with memory loss, which is what Dick did at the start. It wasn’t much of a bother –– cleaning, cooking, and shopping was never too difficult –– but there were other problems at hand.
Two years ago, Dick realized that Rose was having more trouble than she used to. For instance, stairs were a big difficulty, and in a house with a bedroom in the basement, that quickly became an issue. He eventually decided to move her to Adith Miller Manor on the Winona Health campus, which is a unique family-centered facility for memory-care patients.
“We see families making the decision when safety becomes a concern. Our residents are those needing reassurance, direction, and a safe place to be,” explained Cheryl Krage, director of assisted living and hospice care at Winona Health. “They might forget that something is in the oven.”
Krage noted that Adith Miller Manor and its neighbor, Roger Metz Manor, were among the first facilities of their kind in the region, and were founded specifically for the comfort of residents.
“Founded 25 years ago, we were the first dedicated memory-care facility in Winona,” Krage explained. “The purpose of our setting is to create a very family-like setting.”
Each of the two manors holds a maximum of 10 residents, all suffering from some form of memory-care illness. Krage described the space as small and intimate, focused on creating a family atmosphere between the residents, their loved ones and the staff who work with them day-in and day-out.
“It gives families a peace of mind, knowing that their loved ones are in a safe space where people are caring for them,” Krage said. “Our day revolves around the residents.”
The facilities continue to experience improvements, as well. Last month, Winona Health opened up a newly renovated garden area situated between the two buildings –– the most recent update to the still-young facilities –– which was renovated to create an intimate and safe space for residents to visit with their families among the flowers and trees. A walking path, sprinklers, flower gardens and a small pavilion were among the additions from the multi-year project.
“Our residents enjoy the outdoors, and it’s a safe setting for them,” Krage said. “It improves their well-being, and a lot of research says being outside and in nature improves mood and depression.”
In bringing Rose to the manor, Dick explained that the space has given her an ability to be more active than she was at home. He visits, talks with her and other residents, spends time outside and keeps her company –– often staying through to the afternoon. The staff at the manor, in particular, have been a huge help in the process.
“They’re very good. They don’t ever give an impression that it’s a job,” Dick said. “Being small, it’s almost like a family. I visit almost every day, and I talk to them by name, as well as the other residents.”
“[The family’s] role doesn’t change, and they are part of the community,” Krage added. “We find that our families become close with other families, and they adopt other residents, too.”
Dick, in addition to visiting as often as he can, makes a point of trying to keep both his wife and her fellow residents happy and busy. In the past two years, he has given 48 presentation of slides which he obtained through his educational career, covering everything from Hawaii to insects.
“They look forward to it. I try to get them to identify things, but the best ones are the ones that I know things about,” he said.
Staff at the manors also work to keep the residents busy and healthy, taking them on trips around town to places like the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, hosting activities inside the manors, and taking them next door to the clinic when they need a check-up.
“My kids come visit their mother and they are alarmed at how good the situation is,” Dick said.
Living at Adith Miller Manor has been great for Rose, Dick explained, but it’s not without difficulties. Dementia and Alzheimer’s can be difficult for families, and change the dynamics of a relationship and a family in a heartbeat.
“She was the common sense of the family. I was the gung-ho one, and she made us stop and think for a minute,” Dick said. “The worst part of it is you don’t have your spouse to talk to, to laugh with and to make decisions with. Those are the things you miss.”