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Memory Care Neighborhood – 'Like a Dream'
By Lois Thomson

You can hear the passion and enthusiasm in Michelle O'Donnell's voice when she talks about the new Memory Care Neighborhood that is part of Overlook Green Senior Living, located in the Whitehall area of South Hills.  "We are so excited.  Construction is wrapping up and we'll send everything in for licensure, and then we will be opening."

O'Donnell is executive director of Overlook Green Senior Living, and she said the center has been a dream of hers since she took over the position six years ago.  "It was the first thing I said, we needed it.  I get so upset every time I have to discharge one of our residents, who would benefit from a Memory Care Neighborhood.  To see this finally come to fruition is like a dream."

The Memory Care Neighborhood, which used to be an old elementary school, has 23 rooms.  Because of its previous configuration, O'Donnell said it has wide open hallways, and because the rooms used to be classrooms, they are very spacious.  "All of the rooms have natural light, with large windows, along with their own bathroom and closet space.  Each room has its own self-contained heating and air conditioning for the comfort of the residents.  We have a beautiful secured patio area with walking paths for all residents to enjoy."

Dementia refers to symptoms that affect memory, the ability to think, and social skills severely enough to interfere with a person's ability to function on a daily basis.  Risk factors include:

• Advancing age – the risk of dementia increases after the age of 65

• Genetics – individuals with a close family member who has dementia are more likely to develop dementia

• Gender – females are at a higher risk for dementia than are men

• Smoking – heavy smokers (more than two packs of cigarettes per day, particularly between the age of 50 – 60), more than double their risk of developing dementia

• Hypertension – high blood pressure is a very strong risk factor for dementia

• Diabetes – type 2 diabetes has long been a source of risk for dementia, especially in individuals who take insulin as part of their treatment

• Obesity – obesity is based on body mass index, which is determined by weight and height; and there may be a connection between increased BMI and a person developing dementia

O'Donnell said her passion comes from the fact that she's not only an administrator, but also a nurse by trade.  "So – probably more than other executive directors – I'm very, very involved in the care of my residents, because with being a nurse, care comes first.  So I'm particularly excited because I get to keep my own folks; I've discharged enough (dementia patients) over the years and it breaks my heart, and it doesn't help with their dementia either, because every time you send them someplace else it sets them back.  To be able to keep my residents here and let them age in place, is very fulfilling for a nurse, and also for an executive director."

The Memory Care Neighborhood will be able to handle four different levels of care, from people who are just beginning their journey with dementia, all the way up to those who have reached the point where hospice may be an option.  O'Donnell said the care also includes the Five-Star Lifestyle 360 Activities Program and the Bridge To Rediscovery program.  "It's focused on bridging their memories from back to when they can remember, to where they are in the here and now."

O'Donnell also said the staff is currently attending specialized dementia training.  "I just cannot wait to open the doors, I know we're going to give the residents a home like they've never expected."

For more information, visit www.overlookgreenseniorliving.com or call 412-881-8300

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