People afflicted with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions affecting memory can experience an array of harrowing symptoms.

Agrace HospiceCare memory care unit director Sue Husom told the Star one of those symptoms can include not recognizing your own reflection in the mirror. In addition, you might find it increasingly difficult to communicate, plan out your day and remember the names of loved ones — or where you live. And along with the cognitive changes comes the psychological: anxiety, depression, paranoia, agitation and hallucinations.

But that’s where Agrace’s 12 new hospice memory care suites come in. The unit opened in mid-December at the Fitchburg campus, located at 5395 E. Cheryl Pkwy.

Husom invited the Star to tour the suites in late November. She gestured to various amenities around the unit — even the art on the walls depicts natural features and settings to evoke feelings of peace among the patients.

The rooms are equipped with the standard hospital beds, tables, chairs and easily accessible bathrooms. But Husom also pointed to shelving where patients could display personal belongings, a neutral color palette of earthy tones on the walls and doors without handles to prevent escape.

The doors are instead windows with an ample view of nature — the morning sun was shining on the room’s wooden flooring.

In the bathrooms are drawable shades above the sink mirrors — for the patients who can’t recognize their reflection.

Besides the suites, more design features include continuous circulation paths. Husom said this guides patients who like to wander in a circle. There is also a secure outdoor courtyard, kitchen space with tables, activity room, nutrition center and spa with a specialized standing tub.

In the activity room are toys and fidgets for the patients. One of the toys was a baby doll — Husom said it’s common for memory care patients to revert back to a younger age, to a time when their kids were young. Others include fur friends, or life like animals that research shows brings the patients comfort, she said.

There is also a charting center for medical staff and Nordic Relax Chairs to relax patients when they are agitated.

Patients will receive 24/7 care via nurses with specialized memory care training, overseen by doctors and nurse practitioners with geriatric psychiatry and dementia, Husom said. A news release states that specialized hospice memory care at the end of life can reduce the psychological symptoms as well as the need for medications and hospitalizations.

Marketing director Liz Kopling said to date, three donors contributed a total of $115,000 to the unit. In 2020, staff will be putting more effort into raising funds to support it.

Donors of $50,000 of more have the opportunity to name a room within the suites, she said.

At the time of the tour, Husom said the unit was already receiving inquiries about potential patients.

Any Agrace HospiceCare patient is able to apply to live in the memory care suites, a news release states. If you are not a patient, but want to discuss eligibility to live in the unit, call 327-7117.

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