“I’m sorry, but the test shows you have dementia.”
Those words, no matter how delicately delivered, can’t help but turn a person’s world upside down. The patient and his or her loved ones are likely to leave the doctor’s office in a state of shock, clutching a prescription for a medication that may or may not slow the dementia’s progression, along with literature containing information about the various forms of dementia and contact information for the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers a wealth of resources for patients, their families and caregivers. Yet, says Chip Watson, executive director of the Englewood-based Alumia Institute, a gap exists for those diagnosed early—that is, before advanced care is needed.
The nonprofit Alumia Institute was established by a group of physicians determined to give people who want to fight the disease the best quality of life possible for as long as possible. Or, as Dr. Kim Gorgens, a member of the Alumia Institute board, described it in a conversation with Ed Greene on a KOA radio question-and- answer session: “To extend their runway as much as we can.”
The state Medicaid-certified Alumia opened in January, 2019, and can accommodate up to 75 individuals with mild forms of cognitive impairment resulting from Alzheimer’s and the various forms of dementia: Lewy body, frontotemporal, vascular and that related to Parkinson’s disease.
A comprehensive pre-screening is conducted before one can become an Alumia Institute member. (The term “member” is used instead of “clients” or “patients”). “We don’t want to accept someone we don’t feel we can help,” Watson says, adding that there are as many variations as there are people in the course that dementia takes.
Monthly and quarterly assessments continue for as long as a member remains at Alumia, and the progress is shared with family and caregivers.
“We want to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding progress and care,” Watson emphasizes. “Knowledge is power and unfortunately in other settings people may not be getting good information on how their loved one is doing. That is not the case at Alumia.”
Worldwide there are an estimated 50 million people with dementia; predictions are that it will reach epidemic proportions by 2050, with cases approaching 1.25 billion.
Alumia Institute, he adds, approaches dementia “from every angle” in an effort to modify the course of the disease. “Everything we do is done purposefully and for research—and evidence-based reasons.”
The daily rotation of art, music, movement, lifelong learning and brain-training classes are modeled on two groundbreaking studies, Finland’s FINGER Study and the U.S. Pointer Study. The Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) tracked 1,200 residents of Finland between 2009 and 2011 and found that a healthy diet—along with increased exercise, intellectual and social stimulation and better management of heart and vascular health—can prevent or delay the onset of cognitive impairment and dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association-led U.S. Pointer Study is expanding on the FINGER Study to track 2,000 Americans from a wide range of racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds to see if the same holds true.
Class leaders are therapists well-schooled in both their subject matter and in care for those with cognitive impairments. Fitness sessions in the Alumia gym, for example, are conducted by certified personal trainers experienced in senior wellness.
Classrooms and public spaces on the Alumia campus, which is located in Englewood about a mile from Centennial Airport, are painted in bright colors that give the campus an “upbeat and cheery feeling.” Floor-to-ceiling windows allow natural light in, further adding to the home-like atmosphere and giving members a nice view of planes taking off from the airport.
In addition to classrooms and the gym, the Alumia campus includes a library with comfy seating areas where members can read magazines, enjoy a cup of coffee and converse with others. Interaction is encouraged, based on research that shows dementia patients fare better when they are active and engaged, not isolated.
The Alumia staff also hosts support groups, events and educational programs for family members in an effort to provide them with information on healthy aging.
Alumia—a name Watson says is a mashup of “to illuminate or enlighten”—is not a traditional adult day care facility.
Members arrive at the 16,000-square-foot campus at 8 a.m. every Monday through Friday and after a Continental breakfast-type snack that could include oatmeal, fresh fruit, a cold cereal or a yogurt parfait, they are split into groups of 15 to rotate through the one-hour classes that begin at 9 a.m. and last until 3 p.m. The morning and afternoon snacks supplement a hot, cooked-from-scratch, plated lunch that Alumia’s chef prepares daily and is served in the institute’s cafeteria. All menus are based on foods from the MIND Diet, such as vegetables, leafy greens, berries, nuts, whole grains and fish.
“It’s hard to package everything under one roof, but that’s what we did,” Watson continues. “Our members are here for a reason, and we personalize everything so that we reach member at the level that the member is at.”
The nonprofit Alumia Institute was founded on the research-supported belief that individuals can maintain their cognitive function by doing activities that stimulate the brain and nourish the body. It opened in January, 2019, and accepts private pay, Medicaid vouchers with case manager approval and, if one’s policy covers it, long-term care insurance.
9800 E. Geddes Ave., #50
Englewood, CO 80112
Joanne Davidson spent 34 years covering charitable fundraising events for The Denver Post and is now a contributing writer for Colorado Expression and other publications.
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