Sugar Mill Point offers sweet elder services

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Assisted living services are not what they once were. They are better. The American population is rapidly aging, and a mounting number of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia cases are being diagnosed. Those numbers have already increased, according to Suites at Sugar Mill Point Executive Director Shannon Boudreaux, and are not necessarily exclusive to people more than 65 years of age.

Because of increased care demands, assisted living facilities like the Suites at Sugar Mill Point have geared operations and services to cater to individuals with memory loss, dementia or living with the progressive stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Alzheimer’s is very prevalent [in the Tri-parish region],” Boudreaux said. “And it’s all ages. Our youngest resident is 30 and our oldest is 102. Now, Mr. Joe [Robinson at 102] doesn’t have any memory issues, but there is a big need for memory care. You got to wonder what we are doing or what is going on out there that causes so many people have memory and dementia issues.”

The Suites at Sugar Mill Point is a 36-unit facility with a capacity limit for 40 residents. There are currently 39 residents that live in what staff call a neighborhood arrangement.

Green, blue and pink color-coded wings to the complex, each with 12 apartments, activity, living and dining areas, house residents that are diagnosed as being in one of three specific stages of memory loss.

Residents are intentionally grouped with others at their same level of need so as not to create confusion and frustration among the population.

“It is more homelike, more personal and less stimulating,” Boudreaux said. “When you have Alzheimer’s or dementia, you want to cut down on stimulation that would lead to frustration, anxiety [and aggressive behavior].”

There is a waiting list to enter the Suites at Sugar Mill Point where the average cost runs being between $3,000 and $4,000 a month.

“In addition to [basic shelter, activities and meals], we provide all of their personal care needs, toileting, assistance with dressing and undressing, medication supervision, bathing and grooming,” Boudreaux said.

With a dietician on staff, families of residents are assured their loved-ones will receive sufficiently balanced and healthy meals. Snacks are offered between meals as are structured activities that include mental and physical fitness, and music therapy. Religious services of all denominations are provided for residents.

“We also partner with some home health care agents that come in to make sure we are adequately meeting our residents’ needs,” Boudreaux said.

Not all people require assisted living as they age. Some have or can afford to have friends, relatives or in-home caregivers trained to care for them. “I think it is a matter of peace of mind,” Boudreaux said. “People in our community are close knit and very family oriented. So they try to keep loved ones at home as long as they can. But sometimes it is just not safe. If you have Alzheimer’s and you are wandering out of the house, you may need to be at a place like this where we are a lockdown facility as a secure, gated community with staff here around the clock.”

Boudreaux said the biggest challenge in operating an assisted living facility is the high level of staff turnover. Burnout is prevalent among health care providers that work with the elderly and patients that are mentally deteriorating.

“It is not a lucrative job by any means,” Boudreaux said of caregivers, certified nursing assistants and nurses that fulfill the residents’ most basic needs from bathing to feeding. A caregiver generally is paid only $8 to $10 an hour on average. “They have the most important jobs and they are the least paid.”

In terms of rewards with the job, Boudreaux said that knowing she and others working in this field make a difference every day in the lives of others helps keep her motivated. “Something I do every day is come in and before I get out of the car I say a prayer for God to help me make a difference that day,” she said. “I truly feel like every day we are making a difference.”

While Boudreaux and staff members admit to receiving occasional harsh questions from some individuals, the overwhelming number of people they deal with offer continuous words of appreciation that make the long hours and continual task of care giving worth the effort.

“I like to live here because I have my family [in Raceland] and friends here,” said Lidia Hitt as she spent the afternoon clipping shopping coupons. “I like learning about the other people here. People should learn about different ways of life. Even your neighbors because sometimes your neighbors are a little different.”

Boudreaux said that good consistent care is the secret to success in this business. “You have to get to know the [residents’] families and know what they expect,” Boudreaux said. “All of our families are different. Our residents’ needs are all different. But at the end of the day it simply comes down to good care. There are a lot of good things that go on behind these doors.”

Memory care residents Charles LeBlanc and Ella Guilou, both of Houma, benefit from mind exercising and entertaining games while living at the Suites at Sugar Mill Point. MIKE NIXON