Deciding to place a beloved spouse or partner in a secure memory care facility ranks among the toughest decisions one will ever have to make.
Peter Achorn found that out firsthand when he had to consider a secure memory care facility when his wife Kathy began exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease .
Married since 1969, the couple had been inseparable for decades.
“We have no family around, so the two of us have been a nuclear family,” Peter explained one recent afternoon in the sun-filled cottage the couple had shared together at Pine Run Retirement Community. “When our parents were alive, we used to see people at Christmas or Thanksgiving. But my siblings and Kathy’s are all scattered now, so it is just the two of us.”
Being so close for so long, Peter and Kathy knew each other well – well enough to notice when something wasn’t quite right with the other person. Around 2018, they both started to recognize that Kathy was displaying troublesome signs of memory loss. A friendly, outgoing woman of Irish descent, Kathy soon found she couldn’t remember the names of friends and acquaintances she would meet while out walking around the campus at Pine Run Retirement Community.
By then, the couple had been “Villagers” for four years. After moving to Doylestown Borough and renting a home on Garden Alley in 2010, they moved into The Village at Pine Run in 2014. They were among the first of a new wave of Villagers who moved in during a period when Pine Run had just begun updating its independent living cottages.
“Kathy had seen a Pine Run sign that said, ‘We are building for the future,’ and she said, ‘I’ve got that Tyvek feeling,’” Peter recalled. “She used to say that whenever she got the urge to renovate or remodel our home. She said, ‘If Pine Run is building, we want to build along with them.’ So we signed the papers and spent the winter designing the plans. Construction started in May and we moved in that fall.”
The couple threw themselves into social activities and interests at Pine Run. Peter discovered the wood shop, and Kathy planted a 30-foot flower bed along the edge of their cottage with everything from Knock Out Roses to phlox to moonflowers. Peter tends a plot in the community’s garden, the Back Achers, where he grows cherry tomatoes and zinnias for Kathy.
While the couple tended their own gardens, they were aware of The Garden at Pine Run, the specialized secure memory care neighborhood in the Pine Run Health Center. In fact, Kathy participated in a singing group at Pine Run that would visit The Garden to sing to the residents there. Little did they know that they would need the care and resources of The Garden for themselves in a few years.
Kathy’s memory issues slowly worsened between 2018 and January 2021, Peter said. Within a short two-week period, she developed behavior problems. Peter knew his beloved wife needed more care than he could give to her in their cottage, and on January 15, 2021 Kathy moved into The Garden.
Pine Run’s social worker helped Peter with many details. The activities director at The Garden takes Kathy on walks, knowing of her love of the outdoors, and makes sure she participates in the neighborhood’s communal activities that are of interest. Peter can see the windows to her room from the front door of their cottage, and frequently makes the short walk to visit Kathy or to deliver her clean laundry, which he washes, dries, and folds for her.
“If we hadn’t been living at Pine Run, I don’t know what I would have done,” Peter said. “Here, we are surrounded by support and resources, people who have been through it with their spouses. It’s not something you want to go through but if you have to, this is the best scenario.”
Having the support of other Villagers who have experienced a spouse’s memory impairment, and had to make a decision about secure memory care, has been crucial, Peter said. Every person in the Pine Run Caregivers Support Group has been in his shoes and knows what he’s feeling. One of the group members told Peter that over time, the staff and other residents of The Garden would become Kathy’s new family, which helped him prepare for the powerful emotions when that change did come to pass.
“The staff at The Garden has been absolutely wonderful,” Peter said. “They love her and she loves them.” According to Mary Beth Baringer, Administrator at The Garden, Kathy has become a wonderful ambassador for The Garden, welcoming and greeting newcomers, and engaging with friends and acquaintances. Her professional background in communications remains at the forefront in how she engages with the staff and fellow residents. “Her smile brightens all of our days,” says Baringer.
Kathy still retains some memories of her childhood growing up in Ashley, Pennsylvania, and of her sisters and her mother. It’s not clear whether she knows exactly who Peter is.
“I know she knows Peter. Whether she knows that I am Peter, I don’t know. She definitely knows that I’m in her life and that’s enough for me,” Peter said, adding “Kathy is safe, and she is well-cared for, and she is loved. Those are the most important things.”
The Garden at Pine Run is a secure memory care neighborhood located in the Health Center on Pine Run Retirement Community’s Ferry Road campus in Doylestown. The Garden serves both Pine Run Villagers as well as members of the community in Doylestown and beyond who are looking for compassionate care for those with dementia.
As an integral member of the Doylestown Health system, The Garden at Pine Run is part of Pine Run Retirement Community, a continuing care community made up of independent living, personal care, skilled nursing, memory care, and rehabilitation. At The Garden, secure memory care is delivered by trained dementia specialists, a dedicated nurse, life enrichment professionals, and aides who are committed and compassionate members of the Pine Run team. Our Associates deliver high quality care and peace of mind for residents and families.