Donnika took a long path to find this second home. Her interest in healthcare started when she was a young girl looking up to her mom, who worked as a physical therapist. After Donnika’s oldest brother was diagnosed with liver disease, she began caring for him at home, which led her to become a home health aide. Donnika went on to care for patients of all ages, but when she joined a memory care unit in 2018, she felt like she found her true calling.
“I fell in love with the work as well as the patience and structure that memory care teaches you,” she said.
Donnika now works for CarDon, serving as the director of Altenheim’s newly renovated, recently opened memory support unit for assisted living residents, The Neighborhood. After just a short period of time, The Neighborhood is proving to be a huge benefit for seniors in early or mid-stages of dementia, providing routine and structure without taking away independence. Apartments are filling up, and residents are feeling comfortable right from the day they move to the community.
“The day a neighbor moves in, we gather in a circle of chairs and play ice breaker games such as ‘My Name Is’ or ‘Name Five Favorite Things,’” Donnika said. “But we don’t just do simple introductions; we allow neighbors to bond and truly get to know one another.”
Donnika also noted that new residents are greeted with a welcome care package showcasing a variety of individual activities, including a wordsearch book, a pocket-sized planner and a wood frame with painting supplies as well as woodshop crafts like a model airplane and birdhouse for them to build.
Among other things, group activities include games, music therapy and a walking club. Music therapy is especially beneficial for seniors with memory loss. And during walking club strolls around the beautiful 32-acre campus, residents can also have a picnic or go fishing.
The Neighborhood’s sense of structure, community and bonding provides comfort to residents and their loved ones. (Spouses are welcome to visit or even live with residents for even more comfort and familiarity, even if they don’t have memory loss themselves.)
The notion of memory support for assisted living in a setting that feels like a friendly neighborhood is an important one for people of an earlier era who may now be experiencing dementia. As CarDon’s Chief Operating Officer Gregg Gormal said: “It’s like the feeling of the front porch — feeling comfortable and having a sense of community and belonging.”
In March, The Neighborhood had something of a block party every Friday.
“Party Month was amazing,” Donnika said. “The neighbors would dance, laugh and have fun. They sure know how to cut a rug!”
Overseeing The Neighborhood takes Donnika back to the days of helping her brother, as she finds herself in a place that feels like home and caring for people as though they’re her own loved ones.
As she said, “I am here to be my neighbors’ advocate, be their confidant and become part of their family.”