Kate Bassett, Harbor Light News Staff | August 30, 2017
When Hilde Bonesteel works with people who have Alzheimer’s and their loved ones—her approach may best be described as radical; radical love, radical joy, and radical hope, both for connection and small moments of beauty and meaning. It’s a philosophy that she will imbibe into every aspect of a new assisted living and memory care community, Pineview Cottage, opening in the area in 2018.
Located just off M-119 between Harbor Springs and Petoskey (near the ice hockey rink), the 27,000 square-foot community will include 20 assisted living units and 20 memory care units. The need for memory care, in particular, has grown dramatically in Emmet County in recent years. It’s an increase that’s on par with the rest of the country. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s, by 2050 that number is expected to rise to as much as 16 million. In part because one in 10 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s, the healthcare model is slowly shifting away from its clinical approach to memory-related syndromes and disease.
Bonesteel and Pineview Cottage however, is light years ahead of this story. She has dedicated her life’s work to changing the narrative surrounding Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
“We must make a basic attitudinal shift,” she explained. “Dementia is our teacher. Rather than simply a disease, Dementia has purpose and meaning. Rather than being people simply in need of our care, people who forget can teach us about life and living. Rather than a burden, people with Dementia offer us an opportunity to deepen ourselves, to go deeper into our souls.”
Bonesteel does not think of those with Alzheimer’s as lacking ability. Instead, she stresses understanding this critical component: “they have an ability to feel and interact. We need to try and enter into their world, and not make them live in ours.”
Bonesteel and her husband, Dean, will bring more than 30 years of experience in senior living and care to their Pineview Cottage community. This includes a deep understanding of the difference between Dementia a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning– and Alzheimer’s, a disease that has no cure and kills more people each year than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Bonesteel is an expert in both Dementia and Alzheimer’s, easily breaking down the complexities of how the disease impacts a healthy brain, its stages, and the staggering impact it has on caregivers and the country, emotionally, physically and financially.
To share this information—and the hope/healing of better understanding the inner world of an Alzheimer’s patient—Bonesteel started a monthly (free) support group, Alzheimer’s Awareness The Journey, which meets at 6 p.m. every fourth Tuesday of the month at Harbor Springs City Hall. The support group provides information on everything from brain health to strategies for caregivers and families.
“We didn’t want to wait (for Pineview) to begin helping and supporting people, because we know the need is so great. I believe it is so important, promoting awareness in understanding how we age, and the role of eldership,” Bonesteel said. As she spoke, her emotional connection to this work was evident.
It’s not sadness, however, that comes through Bonesteel’s words. It’s information combined with empathy. It’s understanding the needs of both those suffering the disease and those working to provide the best of care.
“Alzheimer’s affects people in different ways, which means each person experiences symptoms and progresses through its stages—differently. Everyone who works for Bonesteel undergoes intensive and very specific training to understand this, and to understand how best to create a therapeutic and warm environment for those living in the assisted living and memory care community.
In fact, Pineview caregivers will all experience a “Virtual Dementia Tour”—a real life simulation to experience the sights, sounds and feelings of people living with Dementia as they try to accomplish simple tasks.
“It provides profound insight into the lonely, frightening world of Dementia,” Bonesteel explained. “It helps all of use to perceive aging and cognitively-impaired diseases in a more compassionate way.”
Her first success story, the Cottages of Davison, in Davison, Michigan opened in 2013. Every detail of that community was designed with residents in mind, “to provide a home that lovingly supports people in being who they are and acknowledging where they are in this disease; we support how they view themselves—their age as they see it.”
One of the things Bonesteel has found helpful when meeting new residents or working with families and caregivers is to set out several pictures at different ages; oftentimes someone with Alzheimer’s, when asked to choose which photo they are in, will select an image of a much younger version of themselves. It’s no wonder then, Bonesteel said, that they may get agitated at the idea of having a middle age child or not recognize their spouse. Instead of trying to force understanding of the person’s actual relationships, Bonesteel helps guide people in a new kind of friendship with their loved one.
Often times, a mother who may not recognize her daughter in person may, in fact, be able to connect and recognize her over the phone. It’s little moments and gifts like this that clearly keep Bonesteel going.
Like in the Cottages of Davison, Bonesteel said Pineview will have “life skill stations” designed to spark memories.
“The goal of life skill stations is to create small vignettes that help Dementia residents spark old memories and create activities that encourage interest, movement and interaction,” she explained. The stations cover a wide range of experiences—from a vanity with an antique mirror and vintage jewelry to a camping station to a baby station and a “here comes the bride” station.
All of these life skills stations are meant to evoke memories through sensory experiences.
In addition, Pineview was designed to embody the classic cottages of the area, both to build upon memories many residents may have and to create a welcoming environment for families. A large porch, sun-filled interior spaces and garden patios were all incorporated to make Pineview feel very much like a summer community cottage, all year round.
The details put into Pineview’s design are indicative of Bonesteel’s basic premise: to provide those suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia the care and support they need to live with a real sense of purpose.
This goes for caregivers, too, she noted.
As a nurse, a very particular story has stuck with Bonesteel for years; an elderly gentleman arrived a half hour early for an appointment to have stitches in his thumb removed. He was in a hurry, he said, because he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife.
“I inquired as to her health; he told me that she had been there for awhile and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease,” Bonesteel recalled. She said the gentleman went on to explain that his wife had not recognized him in five years.
“I was surprised and asked him why he still went every morning, if she didn’t recognize him. He smiled, patted my hand and said,‘she doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.’”
It was this moment—this recognition of a love that accepts all that “is, has been, will be, and will not be”—that most inspired Bonesteel’s own caregiving journey in creating Pineview Cottage.
It’s a place, she said she believes, will provide a life—a real life—for those who call it home. Telling one last story that caused her eyes to well over, Bonesteel said the Cottage of Davison hosts a formal holiday party each year for residents. One of the oldest residents there was asked by a new resident to dance—and dance they did, for several songs (with watchful caregivers positioned all around the room, ready to react if a resident should lose their balance). After returning to his seat, Bonesteel said she noticed the man was weeping.
“I went over, concerned, and asked what was wrong. He looked at me and said he was just so grateful to be asked to dance. ‘Thank you, Hilde,’” he said, “‘for allowing me to feel 19 again one more time.’”
“And that’s what it’s all about, that is the beauty and blessing inside all of this,” Bonesteel said. “To understand the happiest people make the best of everything they still have, to understand it is our job to remember our loved ones’ greatness, and to help them experience that every day.”
Pineview Cottage is set to open in May, 2018.