Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Summer House at Villa Gardens: Making Connections

This is the final blog in a three-part series featuring Summer House at Villa Gardens. Visit our archives to read about the innovative care philosophy and life enrichment programming at this unique memory care neighborhood at Villa Gardens Retirement Community in Pasadena, California.

by Katherine Kennedy, MSG

As the manager of Summer House at Villa Gardens, every day I have the opportunity to witness smiles of joy on the faces of our residents as they experience and discover the many life enrichment opportunities we offer. It’s why I do what I do. Yet, many family members seem to miss out on this experience. For some, there is a feeling of weariness and being disconnected that often accompanies anticipatory grief, since some have been on the dementia care journey for close to 20 years. For others it’s due to the perception of memory care as strictly biomedical.

In the early days when Summer House at Villa Gardens first opened, in spite of everything we aspired to create, I felt something was missing. I soon came to realize it was that essential connection with family members; that a vital part of the care-equation should be to offer them support, education, and additional community resources. Positive connections between family and care partners were what could fuel the success of a resident-centered care philosophy. These important connections could encourage positive and possibly transformational engagement opportunities for our residents. We needed a way to make that happen.

Bringing in community leaders in dementia care as guest speakers and hosting quarterly care conferences are just a few of the ways we make connections with families and offer support. This month, for example, our guest speaker from the USC Family Caregiver Support Center will be discussing self-care for family caregivers. We also wanted the ability to share the positive aspects of daily life with our residents’ families. By introducing the The Memory Kit app to our family members we have been able to share precious moments captured throughout the day through photos stored privately within the app. This kind of sharing allows us to celebrate everyone as a group, while also highlighting residents as individuals.

In an effort to continue to grow our family connections, we’ll soon be inviting our family members to participate in activities using It’s Never 2 Late (iN2L), a 70-inch interactive smartboard. By creating personalized “My Pages” for each resident, families can use iN2L to upload photos and videos to their loved one’s page that can then be viewed on the smartboard. Family members will also be invited to use the smartboards alongside residents to engage in residents’ favorite iN2L programs and activities (see Part 2 of this blog series).

Through the use of these innovative tools and a holistic approach to memory care, we’ve found that we’re not only able to offer stimulating activities customized to our resident needs, but that we can begin to bridge the gap between residents and care partners, residents and families, and care partners with each other as we work together to create a supportive and nurturing environment at Summer House at Villa Gardens. 

In observance of National Alzheimer’s Awareness month in November, we are proud to highlight this three-part blog featuring Summer House at Villa Gardens, a memory care neighborhood. Read more about our care philosophy in Part 1 of this series and our innovative approach to Life Enrichment in Part 2.

Katherine Kennedy graduated with a master’s of science in gerontology from USC in 2015 and received a bachelor’s of science in psychology from Santa Clara University. While in graduate school, she worked at the USC Family Caregiver Support Center helping caregivers of adults with brain impairment and completed her graduate internship with Belmont Village Westwood as its operations intern and activities assistant with a focus on memory programs. After graduation, she worked at Alzheimer’s Orange County in the Outreach and Advocacy Department facilitating community outreach projects related to dementia education and advance care planning, as well as became involved as an advisor for The Memory Kit, an app that seeks to unite care partners in celebrating a loved one or a community group. Katherine is now the Summer House manager and administrator in training at Villa Gardens, a Front Porch retirement community where she manages and oversees the care of and therapeutic programming for 19 individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias and the care partners who work to accomplish the programs.

Summer House at Villa Gardens: A Unique Approach to Life Enrichment

This week’s Summer House at Villa Gardens blog will focus on innovative life enrichment programming as a distinctive component to memory care.

Art created by residents at Summer House at Villa Gardens

by Katherine Kennedy, MSG

Life enrichment programming is a vital component of our approach to memory care at Villa Gardens. Combined with a multi-faceted care philosophy, the success of life enrichment opportunities is achieved through focusing on individual needs, capabilities, and the interest level of each group participant. Cognitive status, diagnoses, general observations, and social behavior are all considerations when customizing activities for residents with dementia stages from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to late stage. When appropriate, groups are combined for certain programs such as live music entertainment and garden walks. To make sure we are matching a resident with the suitable environment and stimulation and thereby capitalizing on their strengths, we collaborate with a local psychologist to conduct neuropsychological assessments and therapy. 

Programs considered for Summer House must meet physical, emotional, cognitive, and social aspects of wellbeing to ensure a holistic approach to memory care. In October, we introduced iN2L or “It’s Never Too Late,” a 70-inch smartboard designed to allow users, regardless of physical or cognitive abilities, to engage with touch screen technology. With its customized content geared toward life enrichment and wellbeing, it has expanded the ways that our team connects and interacts with residents. To create a personalized experience for each resident and care partner, a ‘My Page’ platform is included in the iN2L system allowing favorite music, games, photos and videos, even websites to be easily accessed.

To engage residents physically, iN2L includes programs like “Conductorcise,” cycling and chair dancing that also activate physical activity for residents in a way that is interactive. In addition in-person classes are taught such as chair Yoga, art, “Ageless Grace” and a drum circle.

Emotional and spiritual needs can be met through activities such as pet therapy, “PARO,” “Music and Memory,” aromatherapy and ceremonies such as religious communion. iN2L programs available to meet those needs include “Reminiscence,” “Pastimes,” “Comedy,” and “Radio and Commercials.” 

To maintain cognitive status as long as possible, iN2L features programs such as “Trivia,” “Sing Along w/ Susie Q,” “Travelogue,” “Guided Tours with Rick Steves,” lectures and special events. These activities also create a point of engagement with residents and allow care partners to learn more about our residents.

Lastly, socialization is an extremely important aspect of wellbeing especially for residents with dementia. New residents who move in often times have problems socializing in larger environments and may isolate themselves and decline physically and mentally as a result. To address this need we create opportunities for socializing through activities outings, special events, cultural days, and birthday luncheons.

One of the greatest feelings about living in Summer House is that our residents are surrounded by people they know – whether at a meal, an outing, or a “Celebration of Life.” We are family here and we try our very best to create a genuine and thoughtful approach to all the aspects of wellbeing for all our residents.

Do you have a loved one living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, what activities have you found helpful?

In observance of National Alzheimer’s Awareness month in November, we are proud to highlight this three-part blog featuring Summer House at Villa Gardens, a memory care neighborhood. Read more about our care philosophy in Part 1 of this series and resources and support for family members in Part 3.

Visit the Front Porch Communities YouTube channel to find out more about the many life enrichment programs available at our Summer Houses:

KCBS Health Watch: A Special Robotic Pet Makes a Big Difference for People with Alzheimer's Disease

iN2L comes to Sunny View

Music and Memory

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Poem of Thanksgiving


It's that time of year.
Crisp and cold.  And almost Thanksgiving.

I remember Thanksgiving dinners at Grandpa and Grandma 
Grandpa at the head of the table,
carving the turkey with a ninja sword knife.
Grandma's carefully manicured hands,
offering us French cut green beans with
We little ones at the children's table, 
olives on our f ingers, all around.

Most of all at Thanksgiving, I remember hands, clasped around  the table,
heads bowed, words of thanks offered.

I'm thankful this year for hardworking hands
nurturing hands 
welcoming hands
loving hands
olive-adorned hands.
If we can just keep holding hands
with each other,
and with the One who created us all, we'll be okay.

Thanksgiving Blessings. 
-Pastor Joan

Pastor Joan, Chaplain at Sunny View Retirement Community, was a beautiful shining light to residents and staff and a gift to all who knew her. She passed away last March surrounded by friends and family and her faithful dog Benji .

Friday, November 18, 2016

Veteran Voices: Jerry Coe

In honor of Veterans Day, we are featuring stories of Front Porch residents who served in our armed forces. This is the story of Jerry Coe, a Sunny View resident, who served on the front line as a forward observer.

I was working at Sutherland Paper Company as a commercial artist and also building our first house when I got my "greeting" for induction on March 2, 1951. I was to report on March 29th. I wrote a letter asking for a deferment so I could get the house closed. They granted me a postponement until May 10, 1951. My uncle and brother-in-law served in World War II, and they both saw action.

My first camp was at Fort Custer, which was 20 miles from home, so my family was able to visit on the weekends. After basic training, I was sent to Camp Breckinridge in Morganfield, Kentucky. I used to hitch rides home whenever I could – all the way from Kentucky to Michigan! By the time I got home, I didn't have much time left, but we stayed in our new home that I had built, even though it wasn't done. 

I was on the front line as a forward observer with a scope calling fire and spotting the enemy. We lived in bunkers in the hill. We all wrote letters back and forth. In the beginning, I never got any letters, even though my mother and wife were writing to me every day! It finally dawned on me to ask if there was any mail under my given name of Merrill instead of my nickname of Jerry. They said, "Are you kidding? We’ve got a whole box here for Merrill!" They had only known me as "Jerry."

I was sent back to the States and discharged on February 11, 1953.

LifeBio is an engagement program that captures cherished memories and lasting legacies through storytelling. Since launching in 2000, LifeBio has helped 20,000 people tell their life stories through autobiographical tools and services for all levels of care. LifeBio uses technologies as mediums to help individual document their stories in an easy and unique way such as tablets, web cams, and audio and video equipment. LifeBio has been a partner with Front Porch since 2009. For more details, check out LifeBio’s Impact Story on the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) website.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Summer House at Villa Gardens: A Unique Approach to Memory Care

In observance of National Alzheimer’s Awareness month in November, we are proud to highlight this three-part blog featuring Summer House at Villa Gardens, a memory care neighborhood.

Summer House at Villa Gardens Part 1 – Care Philosophy
by Katherine Kennedy, MSG

When Summer House at Villa Gardens opened in January 2016 we had a vision: a warm peaceful environment that felt like home for our residents with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. We wanted visiting family members, caregivers, and friends to feel welcomed and comfortable.

One of the things that makes Summer House a unique place for residents with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is our care philosophy. Summer House is uniquely focused on the individual, through a lens of positivity rather than decline. Every resident has a private room personalized with treasures from his or her home: familiar and reassuring reminders to help facilitate a more comfortable transition. Equipped with an emergency response system and motion capture sensors, the resident’s safety within their accommodation is given top priority, without feeling intrusive. These technologies give our caregivers an advantage over at-home caregivers by freeing them to interact more with residents in engaging and meaningful ways. A family-style dining room and a patio with outdoor gardens encourage a sense of connectedness – an important aspect of wellbeing. Residents, accompanied by caregivers, also visit tranquil places and enjoy nature in the gardens on the Villa Gardens campus.

Summer House uses the concept of a ‘universal caregiver’ who is involved with activities of daily living (ADLs) like dressing and grooming, as well as meaningful activities such as experiencing music and art. By bringing in experts to train them in programming and end-of-life care, our team members are given the most essential and current tools in dementia care. With this approach we are able to focus on improving the wellbeing of our residents all the while engaging team members and residents’ families in the process.

Also at the top of our priorities in care philosophy is to discover innovations that engage residents in meaningful ways while maintaining dignity, encouraging autonomy, and meeting each individual at his or her stage of dementia. We seek out the potential for learning and growth, and honor the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs.

It is this multi-faceted philosophy that allows us the freedom to explore programs that do not involve medication. These programs include Ageless Grace, iN2L, PARO, the Joy for All Cat and Dog and Music and Memory. Innovations like these, combined with a commitment to continuous education, mean that the entire community is able to focus on the possibilities instead of inevitabilities.

Care philosophy at Summer House at Village Gardens is just one of the memory care advantages versus living at home with only caregiver support. In part two of Katherine Kennedy’s blog, we’ll explore life enrichment programming at Summer House and what that means for staff and residents.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Veteran Voices from LifeBio: Guy Peterson

In honor of Veterans Day, we are featuring stories of Front Porch residents who served in our armed forces. This is the story of Guy Petersen, a Vista del Monte resident,who served as a former Lieutenant Colonel for the U.S. Army Infantry during World War II.

I served in the U.S. Army Infantry as a Lieutenant Colonel. I was based in Europe during World War II, as well as the Philippines. I was in Company H of the 63rd Infantry Division. I had four years of military science at West Virginia University, and I wanted to serve my country, so I enlisted. I chose the Army due to my university training.

Life in the Army was strenuous, but interesting. We woke up at five in the morning and went all day long. I was with General Patton, so my quarters were pretty good. Once, I was shot through the shoulder of my combat jacket by a sniper in Germany. When I got back to my quarters, I thought I should see if the bullet broke the skin. It didn’t and because of that, I didn't get a Purple Heart. I did receive a Bronze Star and other medals: Rifle, Pistol, and Mortar.

One of the most memorable experiences I had while I was in the Army was when I met the Von Trapp family in the woods of Bavaria! We were on a hill above the forest and we heard some noise, so we decided to investigate. As we walked in, we saw two adults and 12 children. If you saw “The Sound of Music,” then you know that the family was fleeing the Germans! The wife didn't want to lose her husband to the Navy, and they were trying to escape. We checked them out, because sometimes the Germans put on civilian clothes and walked close to the American troops to catch them off guard. We took the family to our division headquarters. They were taken down south and finally to the United States.

The Army also sent me to the Philippines, where General MacArthur was my immediate commanding officer. I enjoyed working with him. I spent a lot of time with MacArthur and his troops. I even rode on tanks with him. He always wore his pearl-handled pistols and carried his fancy rifle. He was a good soldier.

The Army was good to me and I met a lot of interesting people, including some big Generals. I started in the Army as a Private. I took over a battalion in Louisiana and became a Lieutenant Colonel. During the Europe and Pacific wars, I lost just three men out of my entire company. I had a total of 23 years in the service. I enjoyed my time and was able to work with good leaders, such as General MacArthur.

LifeBio is an engagement program that captures cherished memories and lasting legacies through storytelling. Since launching in 2000, LifeBio has helped 20,000 people tell their life stories through autobiographical tools and services for all levels of care. LifeBio uses technologies as mediums to help individual document their stories in an easy and unique way such as tablets, web cams, and audio and video equipment. LifeBio has been a partner with Front Porch since 2009. For more details, check out LifeBio’s Impact Story on the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) website.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why I Took Off My POW/MIA Bracelet After 44 Years

By Joan M. Burda for Next Avenue

By the Numbers: POW/MIA Bracelets. 

In 1972, when I was a student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, a small ad in the BG News offered the chance to buy a POW/MIA bracelet. The going price at the time: $4. I bought two.

The bracelets arrived in a small package. I sent one to my sister, Janet, and put the other on my right wrist. Mine was engraved with a name: Capt. Charles Bifolchi (later promoted to Major). And the date he went missing in Vietnam: 1-8-68. Thus began a 44-year relationship with a man I never met.

Bifolchi’s mom sent me a letter telling me about her son. He was from Quincy, Mass. He wasn’t married when his plane went down. She enclosed a newspaper clipping bearing a grainy photo of the young man she prayed for every day. I wrote back and promised I would wear the bracelet until he came home. 

Over time, I learned more about what happened to the person whose name I wore on my wrist. And I waited. 

Charles Bifolchi was on a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance mission — the navigator on a RF-4C Phantom reconnaissance jet with the 16th Tactical Recon Squadron at Than Son Nhut Airbase in South Vietnam — when the base lost radar and radio contact. The wreckage was located the next day but it was too dangerous to recover the crew. Bifolchi was 25.

Keeping an MIA Commitment

Capt. Bifolchi became part of my life. I wondered if he were still alive. I wondered if he would ever come home. From time to time, I would look at the bracelet and talk to him. 

I envied my sister when she watched the soldier whose name was on her bracelet walk off a plane of returning POWs. 

As decades passed, people would notice the bracelet and ask, “Are you ever going to take that off?” Others would ask if I knew him and then say, “Why do you still wear it?” The answers were always easy: I owed him that much. I promised his mother. I wanted to make sure that he was remembered, thought about.

During the mid-’70s, while I was in law school at Pepperdine University in California, I worked at Disneyland in security. The dress code limited jewelry to class and wedding rings and watches. My bracelet did not fall into an allowable category. But no one told me to take it off. 

Most of the people who worked in the department were former military or active duty military working part-time jobs. Some were in the reserves. They all understood the significance of that bracelet.

Fixing What’s Broken

The original bracelet broke in half in 1980. I carried it with me in my pocket until I could figure out a way to repair it.

A few years later, I was in Washington, D.C., visiting The Vietnam Memorial and found my answer. I walked along the remarkable slab of black granite looking for the panel with Bifolchi’s name among the 60,000. I found it and stood there touching the bracelet and tracing his engraved name.

At the end of the wall, a Vietnam vet sat behind a table displaying a variety of flyers, photos and information. One of the flyers caught my eye — it was about POW/MIA bracelets. There was an order form and instructions.

I filled out the form and mailed it with the information on my bracelet and explained what happened to it. Ten days later, a small package arrived — and with it my new metal bracelet. I took the original out of my pocket and placed the new one on my right wrist and silently renewed my promise to Capt. Bifolchi and his mother to wear it until he came home. Decades passed. 

Waiting and Hoping

There have been times when I removed the bracelet for medical procedures. Once, a TSA agent required me to remove it before going through security at the Akron airport. She did not know the significance of the bracelet; the other agents at the checkpoint knew, and their displeasure was apparent on their faces.

People continued to ask when I was going to take my bracelet off. My answer, as before, was always the same: when Capt. Bifolchi came home.

For many years, I scanned newspaper articles about the recovery of remains in Vietnam. But the names never matched the one on my bracelet. When the Internet arrived, finding information became easier. I found information — comments from people who knew him — but no news. I waited and hoped.

Found at Last

In March 2016, my spouse came home and handed me a sheet of paper. “They found him,” she said.

It was a press release dated Oct. 26, 2006. I had missed it. He had been home for 10 years.

Bifolchi’s remains were recovered sometime between 1993 and 2000. A positive identification was made after his Aunt Louise provided a DNA sample. She died in December 2005 without knowing the results. The military notified the family in June 2006.

His big brother, George Bifolchi, a retired Air Force officer and Vietnam veteran, traveled to Hawaii to escort him home.

On Oct. 27, 2006, Charles Bifolchi was interred at Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors. It would have been his 63rd birthday.

It was time for me to say goodbye. 

Saying Goodbye to Capt. Bifolchi

It was a hot and humid day when I took a cab to Arlington. I walked along Eisenhower Boulevard looking for Section 66, Grave 6820-2. After a bit of searching, I found the white stone that bears his name.

I introduced myself and apologized for taking so long to come. I told him about the bracelet and the promise I made to his mother. It didn’t seem odd to stand there talking to him — I’d been doing it most of my life.

I knelt before his headstone, took the bracelet off my wrist, laid it to rest and said my final words to Charles Bifolchi. I know he heard me.

Read more Veterans Day stories from Next Avenue.

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