Sharla Lee, 87, plays Debussy by heart. No one would guess that she has dementia as she performs "Clair de Lune" for the residents of the Sagecrest Alzheimer's Care Center in San Angelo.
Lee, a former professional pianist, brought her piano with her when she moved in four years ago. She gives impromptu concerts daily in the living room and can usually manage requests if someone hums a bar.
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Part of the Sagecrest complex includes two homes with 10 residents apiece, private rooms and around-the-clock certified nursing assistants who receive additional training in areas such as culinary arts and activity planning. Each house has two nursing assistants per shift; a nurse is on-site and available 24 hours a day.
The open-concept kitchen where residents share meals and the framed photos of each of them on the fireplace mantel evoke a condo clubhouse rather than a nursing ward for people with dementia.
"If she were in a traditional nursing home, I'd be beside myself," said Lee's sister, Shirley Alford, 82, of San Angelo. "You just breathe a sigh of relief when you leave there. The level of care is unbelievable."
The two Sagecrest homes are part of the Green House Project, an innovative model for long-term care with open or planned facilities in 27 states.
AARP, other advocates for older people and health care researchers say the Green House Project approach to nursing home care provides more attention for residents; results in less depression; leads to fewer hospitalizations and bed sores; and is a factor in less staff turnover than traditional nursing homes.
"At a [typical] nursing home there is rushing," said Lupe Hernandez, a nursing assistant at Sagecrest. "Here you have a more personal relationship with the elders. You have more time to talk."