Canadian Press Article on Alexis Lodge

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A special residence for people with Alzheimer's disease may be coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.

So far, the supervision of those suffering from the degenerative, neurological disorder has mostly been left to family during the first stages of the illness. Patients are often moved to an institution once the condition becomes severe.

But research into the management of early- to mid-stage Alzheimer's patients indicates they are better served in small, home-like settings.

"Unlike people who are frail and need physical and medical assistance, patients with the disease can walk, talk and feed themselves - they just can't remember if they had breakfast," says Jill Kelly, a Toronto gerontologist.

Most long-term facilities simply integrate the cognitively impaired with other residents although their needs are often quite different, she adds.

Kelly is part of a consortium of health-care professionals who have been providing a wide array of services to the elderly since 1981. The group is particularly involved in establishing non-medical homes in residential areas.

In May, Alexis Lodge opened in an east-end Toronto neighbourhood, adjacent to a school, an apartment building and other homes. Privately owned, the house, which was previously zoned as a retirement residence, is designed to look and feel like an ordinary family home.

"The atmosphere is non-institutional and non-threatening," explains Kelly, adding that it evokes feelings of comfort and home.

The establishment of such group homes is applauded by David Hulchanski, a professor of housing at the University of Toronto.

"I think that it is a trend that we will be seeing a great deal of and I believe we will have no other choice but to go in that direction as the number of older people grows and the need for supportive housing increases," he says.

Hulchanski adds that despite the NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard - tendency among some homeowners, he strongly supports zoning that does not exclude such group homes.

"There can be reasonable provincial and municipal regulations for proper management of group homes and their relations with their neighbours," he explains.

"Just because there are three or four unrelated people with Alzheimer's, it's simply wrong to say there is something different about that place."

At Alexis Lodge, there is private and semi-private accommodation, a large living and dining room and a kitchen where residents who like to prepare meals can do so with the supervision of support workers.

"A resident who has always enjoyed cooking can spend time in the kitchen with a staff member," explains Kelly. "And someone who loves gardening will be encouraged to putter in the flowers at the back of the property."

She says the small ratio of caregivers to patients in such a setting (1:2) helps to eliminate troublesome and disruptive behaviour brought on by boredom which is associated with the disease.

But such specialized care and accommodation isn't cheap.

The cost per month per client is a minimum of $2,000 to cover care. This, however, is tax deductible. Add to that the cost of a room starting at $800 and the total could be about $3,000.

"People think it's an exorbitant amount of money but many people are paying $3,000 to $4,000 a month in a retirement facility and they are also paying $800 to $900 a month in a home where they still are not going to have the same kind of attention to detail as this one," says Kelly.

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Article By: Judy Creighton

Word count: 606

Copyright Canadian Press Jun 8, 1999