Dr. William Howe graduated medical school before entering the Navy in 1958. He performed his first tracheotomy on a train with a kitchen knife and a pen, saving the life of a high-ranking officer. After completing his service, Howe returned to his hometown and practiced general medicine and obstetrics for 39 years. During his first 10 years, he helped bring more than 3,500 babies into the world.
Today, Howe is 86-years-old and lives at Chandler Memory Care by Avenir Senior Living, a residential program for people experiencing progressive memory loss or dementia.
“What I love about our program is the individual cognitive placement, where the residents can be engaged with other people with the same cognition level,” says Gretchen Wentz, executive director of Chandler Memory Care.
Wentz started out in the industry 20 years ago, and was one of the first to work on the social model, verses the medical model, geared toward bringing likeminded people together.
The caregivers at the community are certified through the State of Arizona and provide around- the-clock care. They help with daily living activities such as bathing, grooming and toileting, as well as at meal time and with laundry. They may assist with something complicated like a transfer from a chair to a bed, or something as simple as reading a book.
“They were people before they got this disease,” says Wentz. “They were talented, and we have to remember who they were before this.”
One resident worked for NASA and helped get the first person on the moon. He’s fond of books about space.
Oftentimes someone with memory loss will remember parts of their life from years past, but not remember what they did minutes ago.
“We will go back to what makes them tick,” says Wentz.
While their caregivers are all certified professionals, family and friends also play an important role in the residents’ lives. Chandler Memory Care recently hosted a Thanksgiving celebration the week before the holiday so family could enjoy it without the guilt that comes along with not being able to be at home together. While there are only 55 residents, 110 families gathered to spend the day together.
“We welcome families and would like them to come in and have parties, sing songs and spend time together,” says Wentz. “Chandler Memory Care is really home for the residents, their families, the staff – we are one big happy family.”
Dementia doesn’t diminish one’s accomplishments and accolades. It doesn’t take away the medal Howe earned for saving that officer’s life or the “Heart of Gold” the hospital staff presented to him upon his retirement for his compassionate care of patients and their families. What it does do, however, is rob people of their memories.
It’s our job as family and friends to be patient and spend time listening to the stories they do remember, to give a gentle nudge to help them remember the things they love and to help keep the forgotten memories alive through joint experiences.