CONWAY — After three years of extensive planning and construction, a dream is becoming a reality for seniors with dementia and other chronic health issues when the Mount Washington Valley Adult Day Center opens its doors the week of Sept. 9. The center is a collaboration between the Betty C. Ketchum Foundation, and Memorial Elder Health Services, a subsidiary of Memorial Hospital. The adult day center will provide care and support for elders and their caregivers in a purpose-built facility offering services that will bring joy and respite to its guests.
The new 14,000-square-foot facility is the only one of its size and scale in New Hampshire, with a total project budget of $9 million.
Adult day programs are an essential source of support for caregivers and their loved ones — providing reliable respite care, therapeutic/health services, fun activities and positive social interaction.
“The goal of our program is to help guests feel safe, connected and engaged,” said Sue Ruka, RN, PhD, the center’s administrator and leader in its development. “We focus on personalized care — helping each guest do the things they enjoy, engaging them in meaningful activities and building quality of life together. We hope to bring pleasure and yes, joy, to people with memory loss and peace of mind to families and caregivers. This is not how anyone plans their lives to be, so we hope to bring meaning and build on remaining strengths and past experiences of each guest.”
Not an assisted living facility and not a nursing home, the Mount Washington Valley Adult Day Center is open days only, Monday-Friday from 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Its services are likely to keep seniors with memory loss at home and out of residential facilities longer, while also helping their caregivers, often spouses, adult children or friends, get the respite they need or require to continue their own employment or personal life.
The first thing visitors will notice at the center is its attention to detail. Ruka and Norman Cloutier of the Betty C. Ketchum Foundation conducted a nationwide search of existing day centers to identify the best ways to serve the needs of those with dementia. Many features were thoughtfully developed, to provide opportunities for reminiscence, to calm agitated minds or to allow for physical movement in engaging and safe ways.
First there is the lighting. Many of those with Alzheimer’s disease are home-bound and may not see much in the way of natural light. This can contribute to what is referred to as “sun-downing,” where agitation or loss of cognitive ability progresses as the day ends. It also can impact circadian rhythms, the naturally occurring internal clock that helps manage sleeping and waking cycles. The center has been built with large south-facing windows, so it has an abundance of natural light in almost every space. But being located in Northern New England, a long winter, and shorter days, are inevitable, so the center was constructed with special LED lighting fixtures that mimic the shift of natural daylight’s spectrum from warm to cool and back to warm, helping with that internal clock functioning.
Visitors will also be struck by the quality and variety of original artwork on display. Wendy Ketchum, another Ketchum Foundation director and daughter of the foundation’s namesake, worked with local artists to gather donated artwork that is displayed throughout the center. Framed oils, watercolors and photography are hung at eye level to allow for easy viewing for guests. Ketchum, herself a talented artist, found a willing community of artists ready to donate their talents to this non-profit organization. While visuals like movies or books can be difficult for those with memory loss to follow, paintings are “in the moment” and can be appreciated by those with dementia.
A large common room features this artwork, along with the Valley Cafe, sure to remind guests of their days hanging out at the local coffee shop, and a juke box loaded with tunes from the 1950s, ’60s and beyond. A vintage pinball machine is another throwback that will engage visitors while also allowing for eye-hand coordination and an activity requiring standing and supporting ones’ weight while also reminiscing about days spent playing pinball with friends. Everything is designed to bring comfort and familiarity to these seniors.
Part of the magic of this facility exists outside its walls with the design of its expansive garden and grounds. Over 300 species of plants are represented, with a total of 1,400 individual plants. It makes up what they refer to as a “dementia friendly garden,” with herbs, flowers and berries allowing for guests to enjoy their scent and tactile sensations. The perimeter of the grounds has a gated fence that allows for safety while guests are outdoors, without concern of wandering.
The gardens also feature kinetic sculptures, whose mesmerizing movements make for calming visuals that can be viewed both outside and inside from many of the rooms. A tall tower with moon-like objects rotates slowly against a bright blue sky. A massive red granite ball turns in a water fountain. It’s easy to imagine passing a sunny day experiencing the joy of viewing these objects in motion.
Not far from the sculptures, one can find a whimsical outdoor area with vintage restored double ski chairs from Mittersill Ski Area. Mounted firmly on the ground, these bright red chairs are placed around a signpost with directional arrows painted with ski area names, both current and long-gone. Elders who may not have put on skis in decades will be able to sit and reminisce about the days gone by on the mountain with family and friends — a fitting element for a facility in the heart of New Hampshire’s ski country.
From the ski chairs, a glance to the left brings into view a massive solar array, the source of energy for the center, designed to keep operating costs including heating and cooling, sustainable. Even the center’s transportation is green, with two electric Kia sedans available for limited transportation for guests.
But the holistic care and expertise from the small but cohesive team working at the center is what brings it all together for both the guests and their caregivers. The multi-disciplinary team consists of a social services coordinator, nurses, activities coordinator, personal care assistants and administrative support. The team helps research resources for families, including the coordination of caregiver support groups, assistance with transportation and funding information. The professional nursing staff work in both administrative and clinical roles to ensure guests’ health needs are met including medication administration, assessments, health management and education while on site. Activity coordinator and staff will create a program of activities to provide social interaction and cognitive stimulation frequently lacking for those with dementia who are often isolated.
Personal care assistants can help out with activities of daily living, like bathing, nail trimming and hair styling, tasks that are often difficult for guests and their caregivers. In fact, the center’s salon looks like a high-end spa, with fancy tile, artwork, sinks and dryers for hair stylists. The centerpiece is a private bathing area with a specially designed tub that is made to get in and out with ease. It even features music and lighting, a treat for those receiving services. The idea is that guests will look forward to a weekly trip to the spa, as opposed to what can often be a difficult encounter at home for a spouse or adult child trying to keep their loved one clean and well kept.
Ruka added, “We’ll also offer educational programs and events to the community as we work to become a dementia friendly community.”
A guest’s typical day may include lawn games in the garden (featuring a customized corn hole game), lunch or coffee with friends in the Valley Cafe, art, music or dance classes, friendly conversation in the common room, mental exercise ... fun activities that stimulate the brain, inter-generational activities including time with children and pets, health screenings, gentle physical exercise or targeted therapy, planting or gardening in the solarium, knitting, crocheting or simple woodworking with friends, and reminiscing about old times and shared memories of the past. There are even quiet private areas for those times that guests need a little privacy.
Those wishing to become a guest of the Mount Washington Valley Adult Day Center are encouraged to schedule a tour of the facility by calling (603) 356-4980. A provider referral is not required, but the center will meet with families in advance to ensure that the center is the best resource for the individual’s needs. The cost is $75 per 5-hour visit, and $12 for each additional hour. Guests are encouraged to participate at least three days a week.
Payment options may include private pay/cash, long-term care insurance, VA and some limited Medicaid options. At the time of enrollment, center staff can review what forms of insurance or payment are available. At this time, the center is in the process of contracting and not all options will be available at the time of opening.
“It really is a dream to see this finally come together,” Ruka said. “When we started this process three years ago, it felt like ‘A Field of Dreams,’ this amazing concept rising up out of nothing. We said half-jokingly, ‘If we build it, they will come!’ It’s taken a lot of work by many dedicated people and the support of Memorial Hospital, its trustees and the support of the Ketchum Foundation. Now we can’t wait to welcome our guests and provide joy and respite to elders and their caregivers, people who have contributed to this community their whole lives, and who deserve the dignity they earned at this time of their lives.”
The center is located at 987 East Main St. in Center Conway off Route 113. For more information, go to mwvadultdaycenter.org, find MWVAdultDay on Facebook at, or call (603) 356-4980.