Wind Blown Hair and Hopefully Long Board Shorts
Northbridge’s “A Day in the Life” series offers a unique window into the lives of the dedicated and passionate associates ensuring residents live well and love life every day.
Walking into Avita of Wells, a memory care community located in Wells, Maine the first thing I notice is the calming waterfall statue in the entryway running over the word Avita. The second thing I notice is that everyone is wearing purple. Looking down at my purple scarf and purple shoes I know I’m going to have a good day. I’m here to shadow Angela Mastrella, Program Director at Avita of Wells. Angela meets me after stand-up meeting and leads me to the Autumn Neighborhood, one of the three neighborhoods in Avita of Wells, where her office is located. On the way, she tells me that I’m visiting on World Alzheimer’s Day so everyone is wearing purple, looking at my outfit she asks if I already knew that, laughing I tell her that purple is my favorite color and you can usually catch me wearing it on a daily basis.
Sitting in her office, Angela asks me what I’m looking to get out of my day with her at Avita. I tell her that I honestly just want to see what her typical day looks like and observe what she does. She tells me about a few things that need to be accomplished that day, from chorus practice and play rehearsal to a phone meeting with the company Rendever to perform an upgrade on the very popular Virtual Reality Program.
We are only in her office for a couple of minutes before we realize chorus practice has probably already started and we need to head over to the breezeway. Walking over, I can hear the chorus mid song, ready for Angela’s guidance. Some residents are quick to voice their concern about the upcoming performance in two days, while others are happy to acknowledge how far they have come as a group. Angela calmly listens to all comments before finding a middle ground and getting the rehearsal back on track.
Watching Angela lead this practice I get my first glimpse at how hard she works to fill the residents’ days with purposeful programming. Here we are in a chorus practice different than most chorus practices, where some participants do not remember the last practice, and the phrase “I don’t know what’s going on” is mentioned at least three times and “it’s all Greek to me” is another constant. In the middle of it all is Angela, keeping everyone focused, positive and excited about the performance this weekend. It’s a challenge that I’m sure most music teachers or choir directors don’t have to deal with.
One thing that is the same no matter if you are a resident performing the show with dementia, or a professional singing on stage – they are nervous and striving for perfection.
When chorus practice ends, we travel as a group to the multi-purpose room to meet up with the residents starring in the play.
I’m amazed watching the rehearsal, I don’t know what I expected but seeing the narrator holding the paper with his lines on it and only giving it glances during his opening monologue is inspiring. He has memorized most of his lines and is able to not only read them but perform them! Sitting in the audience, I’m also in awe of Angela for having the ability to recognize potential where some people see only limitations, and lead a group of residents living with Alzheimer’s through a play rehearsal.
The play features five leading roles and a chorus. It takes place in a retirement community and tackles issues such as living in a new home, making new friends, and the fear of forgetting the loved ones you have lost. Although Angela is overseeing the play, each resident involved has the opportunity to make suggestions and contribute ideas that she does her best to incorporate.
The rehearsal goes as well as most play rehearsals do, when one resident forgets her lines someone from the chorus decides to start reciting them for her, when another resident shows off a beautiful picture of her “husband” she walks around with an upside-down picture of Liam Hemsworth, and some of the residents forget to take their bow at the end – but kinks and all it is a great performance.
After rehearsal, we make sure everyone is heading back to their neighborhood and walk with some of the residents back to Autumn where we meet Joanne,* a particularly anxious resident who is pacing and looking for her daughter. I follow Angela as she guides Joanne outside to the garden for a walk. I listen as Angela talks about the pretty flowers, and the last of the freshly grown vegetables in the garden that they pick for the kitchen to use. We make one loop around the garden when Joanne goes for the door and Angela redirects her to another loop around as they continued to walk, talk and take in the beautiful flowers admiring them during one of the last warm fall days.
Heading back inside we lead Joanne to the kitchen where lunch is about to be served and sit her with a few other ladies. We then head back to Angela’s office where she talks to me a little bit more about Joanne and how she has a hard time finding what calms her down. Some days its painting, some days it’s music, and lately it has been walking.
While the residents are eating lunch Angela and I talk a little more about her job and Avita of Wells. I learn that she has three programmers on staff, one for each neighborhood to work with the 44 residents that currently live here. Angela went to school for Therapeutic Recreation and believes in Programing as Therapy and runs Avita programs with that philosophy in mind. One of her most popular programs is Virtual Reality. Residents wear goggles and are transported to many different events and locations, using Google Maps they can even travel back to their childhood home.
When asked why she enjoys working with this population so much, Angela says she enjoys it because she has a desire to feel needed, something that I have heard from a lot of people who work with this population. Most recently the Avita Program Director, Jazz, at another Northbridge Community, Carriage House at Lee’s Farm.
Before we can talk too much, Angela remembers she has a meeting with her programming staff, so we grab our lunches and head to the meeting. Angela holds a meeting once a week with her staff to go over concerns anyone has, ideas anyone wants to try, and other housekeeping notes that need to be shared to keep everyone on the same page. Watching this meeting I can see that Angela does a phenomenal job at giving her staff the opportunity to try new programs with the residents and really make a program their own. Angela also excels at creating relationships with the community of Wells, she works with local schools and colleges to provide internships and learning opportunities that benefit not only the students but her residents as well. She currently has two interns at Avita of Wells, one from the high school and one from the University of Southern Maine. Something I picked up on from watching her throughout the day, is that Angela is a great manager and leader. She gives her staff the freedom to try new ideas and lets them learn for themselves what works and what doesn’t. She sees the potential of her staff and lets them explore their strengths and share them with the residents.
After the meeting, we head back to the multipurpose room to set up tables for flower arranging. Once the room is all set, we head to the neighborhoods encouraging residents to join us for the program.
When we make our way back to the multipurpose room it is hard for me to simply observe the program, I need to be a part of it. I take an empty seat next to the only male in the room, Bill*, as Angela finishes setting up and turns on some music. As I look around at the residents and start to assist them in cutting and handing out flowers, I notice Bill, sitting and leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest and a content look on his face. I ask him if he wants some flowers to arrange and the women sitting next to him replies, “he doesn’t arrange the flowers he just supervises all of us.” I laugh and continue with the activity, helping some residents and passing out flowers all the while Frank Sinatra plays softly in the background. As soon as “My Way” comes on, the once silent Bill starts whistling, which turns into singing, which becomes a full-on serenade. He releases his arms from their firm place crossed over his chest and gestures toward the resident across the table as he finishes the last chorus singing at the top of his lungs. Residents all around him begin to clap and Bill even gives himself a congratulatory whistle, or 5, after the song ends. From flower arranging we all head to the Summer neighborhood where a Country Western Happy Hour is taking place!
After dancing, singing and sitting with some residents at Happy Hour, Angela wants to stop by the front entrance to meet with a new resident. We sit with a couple; the husband will be staying at Avita while his wife travels. Angela wants to meet him and make sure he feels welcome and at home while he is here. Angela, kneeling so she can be at his level, talks to him briefly asking about some of his likes and highlights programs she thinks he will enjoy. I watch the interaction and notice his wife look on, comforted by the fact that her husband will be taken care of while she is away. Angela, instead of talking to the both of them or talking through the wife, focuses solely on the husband and even though he has some issues communicating with her, she works with him to make sure he feels heard.
After our meeting with the new resident, we are heading back to Angela’s office when we run into another resident, Betty*. She is with her son and daughter-in-law and has just come back from a visit to the ocean sporting red cheeks and windblown hair. When Angela asks how her day was, Betty tells Angela she went to the ocean to look for a man. She wanted to see this man in a bathing suit. Everyone starts laughing and Angela says, “well I hope it went down to his knees” to which Betty responds, with no care that her own son is standing next to her, “oh, you’re talking about the bathing suit.” Betty’s son shakes his head and leads his mother down the hall towards her neighborhood. Angela turns to me and says, “that’s the kind of stuff you need to include in your blog post!”
As I head out of Avita of Wells, taking a cookie for the road and turning in my key fob I can’t help but smile as I think about my day, and laugh as I think about Betty and her inappropriate comment about the bathing suit. It reminds me that moments like those are exactly why I love working with this population, and it makes me happy that Betty feels comfortable and confident enough to make a joke like that in her new home, even if it’s in front of her slightly mortified son. If I had to describe Avita of Wells in one word it would be supportive. Whether it was watching the residents in play practice remind their neighbor to bow at the end, or the ladies in flower arranging encourage Bill to keep singing. These residents care for each other and look out for one another. They remember traits and characteristics about their friends and use that information to make them feel welcome and encourage them to participate in programs. Angela does a fantastic job in programing for her residents and I know they love her for it.
If you or someone you know could benefit from the wonderful way of life at Avita of Wells call 207.646.3444 or stop by and visit us at 86 Sanford Road, Wells, Maine!
*names have been changed for privacy