It’s been said many times before that those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia need to be cared for in a stable, familiar environment. However, this isn’t just a safety concern. As Alzheimer’s impacts memory and judgement, many patients fall back on deep-rooted memories and past knowledge. By being in an environment that reminds these patients of a constant in their life – like their careers – there are more aspects in their daily lives that can ground them. Mandy Becker, co-founder of The Lighthouse Memory Support, saw this connection as the key to her memory care facility.
The Lighthouse is a memory care facility and farm, designed for residents with a history in agriculture. Housing retired farmers and ranchers, The Lighthouse is designed to offer a living environment similar to what these residents once knew intimately. Becker utilized her years of experience operating memory support programs and start-ups on the east coast and founded The Lighthouse alongside her husband and rancher, Trent, as a way to serve the rural farming community in Marysville, Kansas.
“The emotional reactions can linger, whether good or bad, so we bring in good moments, bursts of joy, laughter, and fun, to create a lingering feeling of safety, home and comfort,” Becker explained. “Even a negative news story on television can trigger an emotion in their brain. However, we’re unable to process where it came from. There’s not a lot of joy with dementia — it’s a debilitating and devastating disease. And that’s where we come in; we keep everything uplifting and fun because that’s what life is about. We tap into that part of the brain to spend days in a positive light and positive place.”
And part of that joy comes from caring for the animals on the farm. Recently, during the record-breaking winter of 2020-21, a white-faced calf named Spuds was born on The Lighthouse farm. He was quickly brought inside from the freezing cold weather, and was greeted by the many loving and caring hands of The Lighthouse’s residents. The residents’ farmer instincts kicked in immediately as many tried to care for the calf, while others just loved getting to pet him.
“One farmer loved him, petting and loving on Spuds. While another of our farmers was more practical saying, ‘He needs to go back to his mom, that’s where he needs to be,'” recalled Becker. “Overall, it was wonderful, they loved the interaction. It brought up conversations, memories from growing up on the farm, emotions — lots of wonderful things.”
The majority of the residents are able to remain active while living on the farm. They care for the livestock, check the water, help with feedings and even gather the eggs. Others turn to caring for the garden in their spare time, pruning flowers and harvesting any produce they grow for the community. “We plant, we weed, we pick, cook and eat the produce. Just because they have dementia doesn’t mean they can’t have a productive day,” Becker continued. “It doesn’t mean they can’t have a purpose.”
One resident, Joyce who used to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and grew up on a wheat farm, has been reinvigorated since coming to live on The Lighthouse farm. “You could see the happiness on her face when she interacted with Spuds,” said her daughter, Valerie Starwalt. “Mom’s smile is there with every farm animal. Animals brighten her. I feel that when you’re a nurturer, it stays with you forever. By finding whatever makes [the residents] happy, it makes their adjustment into a nursing home 100 times easier. Seeing her with the animals, dogs, cats, calves, sheep and cows, you know those were things she loves, and that love never left.”
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