Alexis Lodge Feature Profile in the Toronto Star

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When Bette Madill's husband Henry, who had Alzheimer's, was in hospital with pneumonia, "the telephone in his room rang about 2 a.m. one night," Madill recalls. "It was one of the staff at Alexis Lodge wanting to speak to Henry."

For Mary Vari, it was the smell that hit her first.

In the long search for a caring place to look after her mother, whohas Alzheimer's, Vari had become used to the unpleasant odour of disinfectant or, worse, stale urine. Then she came to the door of an unassuming house on Ellesmere Ave. and suddenly everything was different.

"There was a warm, homey smell, like soup simmering on the stove,"she says. "I think there was a cake in the oven, too. I'll never forget that. I knew I'd found something special."

What Vari had found was Alexis Lodge, a group retirement home for20 residents with Alzheimer's and related disorders that rob the brain of the ability to function. It is the very antithesis of the big multinational long-term care chains wooed to Ontario over the eight-year reign of the previous provincial government. But if Health Minister George Smitherman is looking for new models on which to build attentive, affordable community care, this wouldn't be bad place to start.

What makes Alexis Lodge different?

For one thing, there are no rigid schedules. If you miss breakfast and decide you're hungry later, you'll be fed. If you need to wander the house throughout the night, someone will wander with you.

During the day, there is music and laughter and dancing, a genuine appreciation for the human condition, a respect for the individual.

And there are no physical restraints, even for residents in a stage of illness traditionally characterized by severe behaviour problems. No one is tied into bed. No one is kept subdued by drugs.

"We don't have people sedated," says administrator Christiana Egi. Drugs designed to control behaviour are administered only in a low dose for a very short time "to take the edge off extreme agitation."

When Donna Tarantino's husband Vince first came to live there, "the doctor said he was going to reduce his medication," she says. "I thought 'Well, we'll see what happens.' But it was fine.

"The dose was reduced again and again until the doctor said he'd like to stop it completely. I didn't think it would work, but it did. Vince was better than he'd ever been."

This does not mean there are no rules at Alexis Lodge. In fact,behind the free-style, homey atmosphere is a carefully constructed environment.

There are the physical safeguards, like an alarm system that monitors all exits, non-skid floors, special bathrooms and close supervision by staff.

But it is the attitude that really sets it apart.

Egi, a registered nurse with a background in psychiatry, is skilled in reading behaviour. Everyone who works there knows how to recognize emotional danger signs and how to respond in ways that defuse potentially explosive situations.

They have all become specialists in geriatric care but "when people ask me what I'm looking for in staff, I tell them the most important thing is a good heart," Egi says.

This is the kind of care that goes far deeper than words.

"My mother doesn't speak any English," says Nahid Khatib Zanjani."But it doesn't matter. She's very happy here."

It is care that extends right through the palliative stage to the end of life. And it is care that goes far beyond the physical boundaries of the home.

If a resident needs to be hospitalized for a physical ailment,someone from the lodge goes too. "Otherwise, with the stress of the situation, they end up in restraints," Egi says.

When Bette Madill's husband Henry, who had Alzheimer's, was in hospital with pneumonia, "the telephone in his room rang about 2a.m. one night," Madill recalls. "It was one of the staff at Alexis Lodge wanting to speak to Henry.

"I explained that he had an oxygen mask on and wouldn't be able to respond." But he could listen, so she put the receiver to his ear.

"I don't know what was said but Henry was chuckling throughout the call," she says. "A few hours later, he passed away."

To this day, Madill is still is a regular visitor to Alexis Lodge because everyone there is like family, she says.

"They take good care of me as well as my mother," says Vari, who like many other relatives, pitches in on many Alexis Lodge projects.

One day, while visiting her mother, Jean Cudmore, Vari stayed late into the night giving the living room a fresh coat of paint. In so doing, she saw the night staff in action, gently guiding restless residents who felt compelled to wander the home in the small hours.

"I've seen this place at all hours and the care is the same," she says.

Despite the glowing testimonials, the concept of a group retirement home is not always easy to sell, Egi says.

Alexis Lodge, a member of the Ontario Residential Care Association,opened its doors in 1999 with room for five residents. Since then it has added the house next door, linking the two places into one privately owned 20-resident retirement home.

Rates range from $1,200 to $2,500 a month for care, room and board.

All residents are pretty well mobile. A few are coping with the cognitive impairment that comes with an acquired brain injury utmost have Alzheimer's or a related type of dementia.

If they reach a point where their physical care becomes very complex, involving, say, feeding tubes, they have to move to facility equipped to handle that extra level of medical care. Otherwise, they have a home for life.

Egi has made a point of getting to know the neighbours, who wave and call out greetings as they go by. She holds regular open houses and also speaks with staff at the nearby school, keeping them up to date with what's going on.

Through fundraisers, like garage and bake sales, the lodge has raised enough money to sink the shaft for an elevator. It can't yet afford the elevator itself but it's working on it.

It also has bought another house next door and plans to expand as soon as possible, Egi says.

A lot of people deserve credit for the special regard in which Alexis Lodge is held, she says. Among them are Odette Maharaj, of Scarborough Support Services, and Dr. Horne Ing, who takes care of residents' medical needs.

Together they've hit on a formula that draws rave reviews even from some people who have never visited the home.

"My mother is 86 and I took her out recently to have her hair done," says Vari. "The hairdresser commented on how healthy her hair is. Hair is a really good indicator of general health."

When Vince Tarantino had to be hospitalized, "everyone commented on how beautiful and healthy his skin is," says Dorothy Tarantino, amid much laughter and teasing from visitors and staff. "It's true. His skin is like a baby's," she says of her husband of 47 years.

The next open house at Alexis Lodge will include a sale of craftsand baked goods, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 29. For moreinformation, call 416-752-1923 or e-mail

Article by Helen Henderson


photography by Peter Power / toronto star Donna Tarantino,right, gets a kiss from Vince, her husband of 47 years. She says Vince, who lives at Alexis Lodge, doesn't respond to a lot but always gives her a kiss when she asks. Below, a staff member plays ball with residents in the living room of the lodge.

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(Copyright (c) 2003 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved. )

Toronto Star Interview with Alexis Lodge Executive Director

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A warm and fuzzy bear, a squishy ball, a song of love, a tender touch. Everyone - from kids with disabilities to adults with dementia - loves things that appeal to the senses at Christmas.

If you've got someone with special needs on your gift list, there's a world of high-tech products out there, such as electronic talking dictionaries that can help kids with learning disabilities. But simply filling a stocking with new and wonderful textures and shapes can bring hours of joy. And using your ingenuity can help keep things simple and affordable.

At Alexis Lodge, a group retirement home whose residents cope with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia, "music is a big part of our lives," says administrator Christiana Egi.

"Old songs that bring back memories are always welcome," says Egi. But other appeals to the senses may be even simpler.

Some who used to sew, for example, might like the feel of a material that evokes a familiar texture or colour.

Someone who once worked with tools might find comfort in the shape and feel of a piece of wood.

Memory books, pictures of flowers, birds or animals, a little plant in a little pot - all these things can bring comfort, says Egi. And a simple heating pad to soothe a sore shoulder can mitigate the agitation that comes with pain.

Egi also suggests speaking with caregivers to find out what kind of services might be appreciated.

Most service suppliers will be happy to make up gift certificates. At the Victorian Order of Nurses in Halton, for example, there's a variety to choose from.

A voucher for the foot care clinic is $25. In-home foot care is $35. For $45, you could give a ticket to the group's fundraising chocolate lovers' Sunday brunch on Feb. 13. A ticket to the March 10 Victorian high tea is $25.

Or you could simply give a card saying you have made a donation in the person's name. For more information, call 905-827-8800.

For someone who is blind or has low vision, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind suggests a talking watch or alarm clock, large-print playing cards, address books or calendars, UV-blocking sunglasses, a magnifier or a liquid-level indicator. All these items and more are available through local CNIB offices. For more info, call 416-486-2500 or visit 1929 Bayview Ave.

One website specializing in products for both adults and children with special needs is The company says orders received by Dec. 10 will be delivered in time for Christmas. Flaghouse products include "Teddy Warm Heart," a fuzzy bear that stays warm for up to four hours and emits the soothing scent of lavender ($39.95 U.S.) and little plastic animals with vibrating feet that deliver massages ($19.95 U.S.).

Other sites worth checking are and, which includes a talking dictionary and spell corrector ($49.95 U.S.), a great tool for some kids with learning difficulties.

But sometimes, it's the simple things that are best.

At the Bloorview MacMillan Children's Centre, child life specialist Marusia Heney says a children's stocking filled with a world of sensory experiences can be easy and affordable to put together.

Story books with fuzzy pages, a soft paintbrush to tickle the toes, colourful pom-poms, touchable bubbles and smelly markers are all popular, Heney says.

And if you use a bit of ingenuity, a little bit of money can go a long way.

Some of the most interesting and reasonable priced touchy-feely things, for example, can be found in pet stores.

Think about it. The soft or crinkly toys on display are tailor- made to appeal to the two-legged shoppers that control the purse strings. So go ahead and have a ball.

Credit: Toronto Star

Article By: Helen Henderson

Word count: 652

(Copyright (c) 2004 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved. )

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.


Article By: Judy Creighton

Word count: 606

Copyright Canadian Press Jun 8, 1999