CHHSM Ministries Lead the Way in Person-Centered Memory Support

The design ideas for The Cottages at Cedar Run started with a round-table discussion at a LeadingAge senior living conference in 2010. CHHSM ministry Cedar Community’s CEO, Steve Jaberg, consulted with four European experts on assisted living memory care design on how to enhance a new approach to memory care based on resident-centered programming.

“Grand entrances remind people they’re trapped,” offered one attendee. “Long corridors confuse people,” another said. “Lounges and libraries discourage physical activity,” one expert said. A final comment focused on the need for more activities, better lighting and Mediterranean-inspired diets.

Four years later, these suggestions make up the basis for The Cottages in West Bend, Wis. The community, which features three interconnected “neighborhoods” with 20 cottage residences per neighborhood, rests on a 160-acre forested campus. The dedicated 1.5-acre courtyard features plenty of walking paths, raised gardens and gazebos, with courtyard fencing virtually hidden by ivy. Family members and visitors will enter through an unobtrusive entry, so as not to disrupt resident activities.

These are just some of the changes that CHHSM ministries like Cedar Community are introducing to improve person-centered memory care.

“Some organizations build communities that are pleasing to staff, families and visitors,” Jaberg says. “They might look nice, but they can be disruptive to the person receiving care.”

People have an innate sense of when they’re comfortable and when they’re not, says Tena Alonzo, director of research at CHHSM member Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix. Beatitudes pioneered the Comfort First program in 2005 and trains other providers in best practices for memory care.

“We have to be able to shift gears and follow someone’s request at any time. What someone tells us through their actions and behaviors is generally most important to them,” she says. “Our program is flexible. We bend like willow, but we don’t break.”

That philosophy guides every aspect of her community’s approach, even at the cost of conventional rules. For example, residents can eat whatever and whenever they want, including chocolate. There are no requirements to bathe every day, and people can sleep anytime.

Alonzo says there’s momentum in the senior living profession toward a person-centered model of care. However, she says most organizations know the direction they should take, but aren’t certain how to get there.

That desire for person-centered care is why Jaberg hopes people will use The Cottages at Cedar Run as a template for their own design. “Our approach isn’t right for everyone,” he says. “But we think it’s a model for what others may want to do in the future.”

The need for person-centered care will continue to grow. According to The Alzheimer’s Association, 5.2 million Americans live with the disease, and that number may nearly triple – to 13.8 million – by 2050.

CHHSM ministry Pilgrim Place understands the benefits of person-directed care. Three of the community’s team members recently obtained certification as Master Trainers in the Best Friends approach, a philosophy that pairs residents with best friends – care givers who build relationships through the foundations of friendship: respect, empathy, support, trust, and humor.

“For several years now, Pilgrim Place has been dedicated to person-centered care,” said Sue Fairley, vice president of health services at the Claremont, Calif. community. “Respect for the person is one of the major pillars of our philosophy here at the Health Services Center. Those of us who are certified as Master Trainers will lead the rest of the staff in adopting this person-centered care model.”

Although there is no cure for memory loss, Alonzo has some words of encouragement.

“The day people have now will be better tomorrow because of our collective work,” she says.

For more information on The Cottages at Cedar Run, contact Nicole Pretre at

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