For anyone who loves someone living with dementia, this story is for you

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The design of Cardinal Court and Greenfield Estates is intended to mimic a grand home, complete with a dining room and family room. Decorations and accessories are tailored to residents with dementia. Pictured above: Community Resource Directors Kim Wilfong (L) and Kim Li.

By Beth Newcomb

I remember when my grandmother first started showing signs of the disease that would erase us from her thoughts. It was frustrating to not understand why she was behaving the way she was.

Why she didn’t seem like herself. Why she was angry, and combative.

Later, when she was diagnosed with dementia, our family wasn’t equipped to provide her with the care she needed to help her mentally hold on a little tighter to us.

And we didn’t understand how to help her live in the new reality that claimed her as the disease progressed. But 20 years ago, just before she died, there was no such thing as a special Alzheimer’s and dementia care facility.

As I sit with Holly Kust, certified dementia practitioner and program director at Cardinal Court Alzheimer’s Special Care Center, it’s difficult not to get choked up thinking about what my grandmother missed out on.

Holly represents the current climate in the dementia care world, and her passion and dedication to the patients she serves makes her immediately likable.

In fact, as I tour the facility that is as close to a home environment as a care facility can get, I notice that everyone on the staff demonstrates the same level of kindness, caring and respect that Holly does.

Her depth of understanding of the disease and the way Cardinal Court, as well as its sister location, Greenfield Estates, tackles it on an individual basis for each person reflects such love and understanding, I am humbled to be here. They call the program they offer Meaningful Moments, and it’s tailored to the individual needs of each resident.

“Where most places fail when it comes to memory care is they try to include dementia patients in with skilled nursing patients,” Holly says. “They’re addressing the person’s physical needs, but they aren’t addressing the psychological and emotional needs.”

“Here we honor the life story of each person and create meaningful engagements,” she continues.

“We try to help our residents keep their abilities for as long as they can, and if that means they help with folding laundry, or they sand a block of wood to make a plaque, that’s what we do with them. It’s about honoring the memories that exist and validating them.”

The validation technique she’s referring to is part of the Teepa Snow positive approach, and it’s connected to how a resident is greeted, how they’re touched, what kind of body language is used and the tone of voice that’s used.

“Our goal is to set each person up for success,” she says. “Our approach is to understand what’s going on inside a resident’s brain and then work with it.”

Working with it also extends to the environment that comprises Cardinal Court as well as Greenfield Estates.

For example, the design in the carpeting is specifically tailored to a person experiencing dementia’s loss of depth perception. Red plates at dinner help the mashed potatoes stand out better. Life stations in the hallways provide inviting methods for connecting to days gone by.

Before a new resident arrives at Cardinal Court or Greenfield Estates, Holly and her staff spend a tremendous amount of time interviewing the family, finding out what kind of life their loved one lived.

“Their story is incorporated into how we care for them,” she inserts.

Cardinal Court and Greenfield Estates caregivers have different roles, so the residents don’t associate some of them with unpleasant tasks, like toileting, while associating others with fun, like activities and engagement.

“Everyone does a little bit of everything, which creates a culture of familiarity for our residents,” she notes. “This is person-centered care. Not task-centered care. At all times and in every way, our residents come first.”

To take a tour of Cardinal Court or Greenfield Estates Alzheimer’s Special Care Centers and experience the difference this freshly opened dementia care community can make in the life of someone you love, call 440-268-9180 and ask for Kimberly Wilfong at Cardinal Court, 18719 Drake Road, in Strongsville, or Kim Li at Greenfield Estates, 3522 Commercial Drive, in Copley, 330-664-1650. The web address is