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A dementia friendly HOME at the Woods

Sister Regina Norris (formerly Sister Regina Clare) works with a touchscreen computer, a part of the “it’s never too late to learn” project, made possible by the HOME initiative

In June 2017 the Sisters of Providence unveiled plans for creating a new HOME at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Recognized as a place of extraordinary beauty and a rich spiritual heritage, the Woods is well suited to the HOME envisioned.

This HOME is not a building. HOME is a culture change. Its intention is to make the entire Woods a dementia-friendly place for both those living with cognitive challenges and for their families and friends. HOME is an acronym for Helping Ourselves Meaningfully Engage.

Improving lives

Love provided the initial funding for HOME. A couple, experiencing a beloved Sister of Providence aunt’s cognitive diminishment, gave a very generous gift with the purpose of “improving the retirement experience for the sisters.” This gift given in love has done what love always does — it opens hearts and minds to dream and to do what would otherwise be impossible.

Sister Millie Giesler (formerly Sister Alma Joseph) with Sister Terese Marie Havlik, whose family members funded the beginnings of the HOME memory care initiative

The Sisters of Providence General Council appointed a team of health care professionals. Their task? What needed to happen to improve the retirement experience for the sisters?” This team has come to be known as the HOME team.

They created a simple and compelling vision statement to guide the building process. “HOME will be an environment that supports our well-being regardless of our age or infirmity so that we are at our best, our happiest and our healthiest.” With the donors’ blessing, HOME will serve both sisters and others living with dementia.

Dementia friendly

Our dream HOME rests on three essential building blocks. The first block is relationships. Dementia is a condition. It robs the essence of the person living with dementia. The person is no longer complete. How then do we learn to relate to that person?

The second block is environment. How will we transform existing spaces and create new spaces that will make us feel at HOME?

The last building block is operations. A dementia friendly Woods touches every department, every physical space, and every decision about facilities operations. What kind of dining spaces, socializing areas, music and pet therapies, outdoor activities will allow all to be at “our best, our happiest, our healthiest?” These questions aren’t theoretical ones for our vision of HOME to become reality. These questions ask all sisters and all staff members in every area of our Woods to change what needs to be changed in the creation of a dementia-friendly Woods.

Sister Claire Hanson (formerly Sister Brigid Eileen) assists Sister Regis McNulty during a sing-along, part of the music and memory initiative of the HOME project.

The team set the goal to educate all involved — Sisters of Providence, Sisters of Providence and Providence Health Care staff and administrators, Providence Associates. This work has begun and continues.

The HOME team has offered educational opportunities: on how the brain changes, building empathy for those living with dementia and meaningful ways to engage them, practical advice such as how to avoid falls and how to converse with a person with dementia.

Designing, building and maintaining a dementia-friendly HOME is challenging. Yet all involved demonstrate enthusiasm and commitment to moving from vision to a living and nurturing HOME. This energy is contagious. HOME is a unique ministry for a special group of people in a setting rich in natural beauty and attentiveness to a person’s spiritual and physical needs. Who wouldn’t want to be part of building this HOME?


(Originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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  1. Avatar Renata J Rafferty on May 26, 2018 at 12:00 am

    Dear Sisters —

    Having lost my husband to complications of Lewy Body dementia (sometimes known as Parkinsonian dementia), I could not be more proud and touched that my beloved Sisters of Providence have initiated HOPE. Please let us know how we can be supportive and involved in this initiative (even though many of us are at a distance). And I wold like to be a volunteer for any advisory body you might have that focuses on the experience and needs of the caregiver.

    Renata Daroszewski (MTG ’74) Rafferty

    P.S. My dear Jerome passed away in October, 2009. He had never been to the Woods, and I had planned a day trip there with a Sister guide on my birthday, October 1st, that year. I knew that a visit to the Woods would be a beautiful experience for him even in his state of advanced dementia. Alas, when I woke him that morning, we found he no longer had the energy to leave his bed — a VERY sudden development. His last venture out of our home had been the day before to celebrate Mass on the feast of St. Jerome. So this initiative particularly resonates for me.

    • Avatar Denise Wilkinson on July 9, 2018 at 1:16 pm

      Renata, what a lovely reflection on your experience with Jerome. I would love to explore with you your ideas expressed here. Please contact me at my email address: dwilkins@spsmw.org

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