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The Arbors uses ‘Best Friends Approach’ for Alzheimer’s residents

“Best Friend” Dawn Fitzwater watches Maxine Shumake sew a pillow case at The Arbors in Farmington. The Arbors is a memory care assisted living center that uses the “Best Friend” Approach.” to care.

A new assisted living facility in Farmington is using a “Best Friends” approach for patients with Alzheimer’s.

Maplebrook Assisted Living by Americare and the neighboring Arbors at Maplebrook (a Memory Care Assisted Living) opened on Maple Valley Drive in Farmington in April.

Debbie Ducote, Elder Care adviser for Americare, said Arbors is focused on memory care for the older generation. Ducote said the center is good for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who tended to walk away from home and not find their way back. Arbors has added safety measures, Ducote said. For those not ready to place their loved one in a nursing center, Arbors provides daycare for dementia patients. For more information, call 573-756-2777.

Americare, which operates 100 centers in the Midwest including Ashbrook Manor, is the only company licensed in Missouri to use or train how to use the “Best Friends Approach” for Alzheimer’s care. Training is developed in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association.

It’s a person-centered care where staff caregivers learn about that person, not just where they worked and who their family is but what makes them laugh and what makes them scared — so they can make a true connection and offer a more rewarding way of life.

Virginia Bell and David Troxel developed the Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s care in the 1990s while they were working at the University of Kentucky Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Their approach was the first comprehensive philosophy geared toward caregivers. It is a philosophy that is easy to understand, learn and apply.

They suggest that what a person with dementia needs most of all is a friend, a “Best Friend.” This can be a family member, friend, or staff member “who empathizes with their situation, remains loving and positive, and is dedicated to helping the person feel safe, secure and valued.” They suggest ways to help the person with dementia preserve their dignity.

For more information on Virginia Bell and David Troxel’s approach, visit

By working closely with loved ones, Best Friends are a guide to the past and the present to prevent loneliness, helplessness and boredom. Days are flexible but quietly structured to provide a sense of order. Residents are engaged more readily in this setting through verbal cues and daily routines.

“The staff who work back here only work back here,” Ducote said. “For dementia patients, seeing familiar faces is really important.”

Recently, Arbors CMA Dawn Fitzwater and resident, Maxine Shumake started out the day together in the dining hall making crafts. Then they moved onto a pillowcase project Shumake started sometime ago.

Shumake, with a smile on her face, said Fitzwater keeps her pretty busy.

What Ducote likes about her job is seeing the smiles on people’s faces.

Ducote said it’s hard for sons and daughters to take on the role of caregiver. It’s hard to separate the disease from the person.

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“It’s pretty special when you see the son or daughter get to be the son or daughter again and reconnect in that way,” Ducote said of the residents’ families.

They will never have more than 20 rooms at Arbors. They currently have 16. Ducote believes having more than that could be over-stimulating for dementia patients.

The Best Friends Approach keeps residents pretty calm but if a resident ever has a rough day, there’s the Quiet Room, a relaxing room with calming lights, cords and a silent movie. There’s also a salon/spa.

In September, Ashbrook and Maplebrook/Arbors participated in their very first Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Festus. They raised more than $2,000 for the walk.

“They were one of our top company fundraising teams for the Walk this year,” said local Alzheimer’s Association Outreach Coordinator Mary Ehrenreich. “Extremely impressive for their first time at Walk!”

If you are interested in helping the Alzheimer’s cause, there will be a Strike Out Alzheimer’s event at Bonne Terre Family Fun Center (111 Old Orchard Road) from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 8. Tickets are $25 at the door or $20 before Nov. 1 at The Printing Co., Daily Journal, and the fun centers. There will also be a 50/50 raffle and prizes.

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