S. Barrington facility provides support for loved ones with Alzheimer's

  • Tony and Myrna Caldwell, married for more than 60 years, enjoy a visit at Autumn Leaves of South Barrington.

    Tony and Myrna Caldwell, married for more than 60 years, enjoy a visit at Autumn Leaves of South Barrington. Courtesy of Autumn Leaves of South Barrington

Submitted by Susan Hoover
Updated 12/2/2014 2:23 PM

Myrna Caldwell spent her whole life as a happy homemaker in Illinois, married to Tony and raising five children. She could follow even the most complicated recipe to a "T" and multi-task by doing laundry while preparing a delicious meal.

In their 60 years of marriage, Myrna and Tony have stood by each other through better and worse, promising to always be there for one another. But that promise took on a whole new meaning when Myrna's memory began to drift five years ago. Tony stepped in as her main caregiver and noticed her cognition getting progressively worse. Two years ago she was diagnosed with progressive senile dementia, and when Tony observed it ever increasing, he began searching for help.


"I'd sworn I would never put her in a facility as long as I was able to take care of her myself," Tony said. "Over the last year our family, neighbors, friends and volunteers have all helped me take care of Myrna, but as the year progressed and she was going downhill, I noticed I was going downhill with her."

It was then that Tony's family made the decision to find a community Myrna could live in full-time under constant supervision and with the care of trained experts. Tony and their daughter began that search in April of this year by doing more than three months of careful research, visiting about seven different skilled nursing homes and four assisted living communities. The component that was always missing at those communities was Myrna; they just couldn't see her adjusting well to a businesslike atmosphere. Many communities they visited had environments that seemed depressing even to them as visitors. Shortly after that, their daughter and daughter-in-law discovered Autumn Leaves of South Barrington, and everything changed.

"It felt bright and cheerful as soon as we pulled up," Tony said. "When we walked in the front door, we discovered a beautiful, welcoming, warm, cozy, and uplifting environment. The staff we met with was very impressive, caring and thoughtful. We knew they had the perfect place for Myrna. She moved in, and after a few weeks of visiting her there at various times, we learned that the staff and caregivers do what they say they're going to do. They know how to do it and do it well, and a few weeks in my family and I didn't have to inspect their work anymore because we became convinced that it was the right place for Myrna."

The Caldwells' story is not unlike that of the millions of families in America who struggle with caring for a loved one with memory impairment, but Autumn Leaves has created an environment where those with Alzheimer's and dementia can thrive with its specially designed communities, social interaction programs and inviting environments.

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In addition to the assistance it provides to residents, Autumn Leaves also extends its services to the community through respite programs, monthly support groups the second Thursday of each month from noon to 2 p.m., and seminars, on Alzheimer's and dementia issues, which are open to the public.

Staff members at Autumn Leaves of South Barrington receive specialized Alzheimer's training, and they are always willing to offer advice and assistance to families. With the holiday season quickly approaching, staff members know that it is important to plan ahead for what can be a challenging time for families whose loved ones have memory impairment. Autumn Leaves of South Barrington offers these ideas to help families and caregivers get the most out of the holiday season:

1. If taking a loved one out of the normal environment is disruptive or creates anxiety, consider an intimate gathering at home with minimal stimulation.

2. If a loved one is in an assisted living community, create a new experience that includes a family visit with a gift exchange and activities in the assisted living community.


3. Always stay mindful of safety issues; loved ones with Alzheimer's may mistake decorative fruit, trees, plants and scented candles for food.

4. If a loved one wants to go shopping for gifts during the holidays, shop during times when there are fewer people or crowds.

5. Create activities your family can enjoy together; give your loved one wrapping paper and tape to wrap gifts, decorate pine cones, bake bread or cookies. Customize the activities for your loved one, and embrace the outcome, even if the activities may not go as planned. Take pictures to document the bonding experience and to help you see the benefits of the interaction.

"Our goal at Autumn Leaves is to help educate the public, raise awareness and provide an environment where those with dementia or Alzheimer's can have the quality of life they deserve," said Barbara Schechtel, executive director for Autumn Leaves of South Barrington. "In addition to our residents, we also have to address the needs of their family members who are dealing with changes in their loved ones. We're really here to serve the needs of everyone affected by memory impairment and bring awareness to this support system."

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