DEKALB -- When it comes to Alzheimer's disease, Deb Greiner said the present counts most.
"They live in the moment," said Greiner, director of Alzheimer's services at the DeKalb County Rehab & Nursing Center. "Our job is to give them as many moments as possible."
Many of those moments occur in the Country View Square Garden - which is attached to what's known around the center as the "Alzheimer's wing" - that began blossoming about a decade ago with a few of the residents' favorite plants.
After a donation from the DeKalb Hearts of Gold community group about three years ago, local gardeners helped improve the garden by pouring concrete sidewalks, adding lights and scattering mulch around trees and flower beds. Windows in the wing's cafeteria give residents a full view of the raised planting beds, the variety of trees, bushes and flowers and the water feature installed by a local Eagle Scout. By Nicole Weskerna.
The sights, sounds and smells of the peaceful garden all pique the senses, providing an ideal way for Alzheimer's patients to enjoy the present.
Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, according to information on the Alzheimer's Association's website. The Alzheimer's wing of the DeKalb center is home to 38 residents, including Randy Moseley's mother, Onnie Moseley.
Randy Moseley got involved with the center's garden in 2008 when his mother moved in as a resident with Alzheimer's. He even became certified as a Master Gardener through the University of Illinois Extension Office, and he later became the project leader for the garden in the Alzheimer's wing. He volunteers hours each week trimming hedges, mowing and watering.
"The pay I get is people say, 'Hey, it looks nice and I can enjoy it,' " he said.
Though the garden area has been in place since the center was built, it didn't always look the way it does now.
Kathy Perilongo, a certified nursing assistant at the center, said at least a decade ago, the garden area was a mess. She got the idea to fix it up by letting residents and their families plant some of their favorite flowers, and volunteers have assisted over the years to clean it up.
"The main thing is that it's something for the residents to have, to own here," she said. "They so enjoy it."
Greiner said the cherry tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs growing in raised planting beds are incorporated into a cooking program where residents eat meals three times a week they helped make. Many pick flowers, enjoy the floral scents from the Japanese hydrangeas or sit and listen to the sounds of the water fountain.
Staff members try to tap into a resident's former occupation or hobby, and Greiner said many of them enjoyed gardening when they were younger. It also serves as a form of "normalization" therapy, she said, which involves making residents feel as close to home as possible.
"When people come to a nursing home, residents feel like it's the end of life, and we want to show that life continues," she said. "We really strive to continue life."
Randy Moseley said while he gardens at the center for the enjoyment of the residents, it's also a place where families can go to take their minds off of an illness that affects everyone involved.
"It's a difficult disease," he said. "If that's a place to go to lift their spirits, that's what it's about."