After training in the US Navy Seabees and a successful and fulfilling career in healthcare facilities management, Jerry Schmidt is well-versed in all things mechanical. He’s managed and maintained systems large and small, and he has the mechanical know-how to dissemble, fix, and reassemble just about anything. After experiencing significant cognitive loss due to Lewy Body Dementia, Jerry is now a resident of The Garden, Pine Run’s Secure Memory Care neighborhood, located on the top floor of the Health Center on the Ferry Road Campus.
“The environment feels very familiar to Jerry from his time working in healthcare,” said Mary Beth Baringer, Administrator at The Garden. Jerry is, in many ways, still working. “Since coming to live with us, he has taken apart furniture, doorknobs, picture frames, and other items, because in his mind, he is still at work,” continued Mary Beth.
“Each resident of The Garden brings a unique personality and life experiences with them when they move in,” says Mary Beth. “As experts in dementia care, it’s our mission as associates to work with individuals and their families to find out what makes each person tick, who they are, who they were, and how each person’s dementia can change, amplify, or keep those personality traits and preferences. It’s a challenge that we love,” said Mary Beth.
In Jerry’s case, the challenge is how to engage his mechanical mind and continue to reinforce his feelings of productivity and his need for tactile stimulation in a way that leaves the furniture and furnishing of The Garden intact! “Jerry has a constant need to physically engage his hands in a tactile way,” says Mary Beth. “And doing this is something that we want to encourage, as it helps with agitation, and exercising eye-hand coordination is good for brain health.”
In the past, other residents of The Garden have successfully utilized Activity Boards for this purpose. These boards, which typically contain familiar hardware like latches, knobs, and locks, have been used in Memory Care settings for some time. The Garden’s boards were so well used they were in disrepair; Mary Beth began a search for new ones that might appeal to Jerry.
Woodworking is one of the many hobbies enjoyed by Pine Run’s Independent Living residents. The woodshop, located in our Craft Barn, is where residents can create their own projects and also take on work on behalf of other residents and associates. Mary Beth knew that Pine Run resident Walt Mayer was an accomplished woodworker. His talent can be seen at arts and crafts shows on campus in his decorative birdhouses, hand crafted trucks and other vehicles for kids, and turned planters and decorative objects.
Mary Beth showed Walt some photos of Activity Boards that she found through an internet search and asked if he could create something similar that could withstand the test of time for use in The Garden.
Walt immediately went to work utilizing his creativity, workmanship, ingenuity, and found objects to create several Activity Boards for Garden residents. He began by sourcing materials. “A fellow woodworker had hand-crafted several sets of corn-hole boards for use in the Village,” said Walt. “I began by using an unsuccessful ‘test cut’ from that project. It was a perfect start for the activity board, with a circle already cut. With the addition of a door and a latch, and a fun happy face in the background, it made for a good start,” continued Walt.
The work didn’t stop with just one board. The project appealed to Walt’s creativity, and he began looking for additional materials. With marbles found in a thrift store, he created a rain board sensory project using wood and repurposed acrylic. The marbles are housed in Walt’s handmade wood box. The box (mounted on a Lazy Susan) can be spun, sending the marbles clattering down into the nail pattern, only to be repeated when spun again.
He then embarked on yet another board using wood gears, drafting his graphic designer daughter and son-in-law into the project to create color wheels that, when the gears are turned, create a rainbow of color.
“I couldn’t be happier with the care that Jerry receives at The Garden,” said Christiane Schmidt, Jerry’s wife. “This amazing collaboration, in an effort to address a very specific need for my husband, is the kind of thing that sets Pine Run apart. We can’t wait to see how he and other residents of The Garden respond to Walt’s Activity Boards, and his kindness and creativity. Mary Beth and all of The Garden Associates always go above and beyond. This can’t change Jerry’s diagnosis, but their individualized care and consideration gives me great peace of mind.”
“The wood shop is my happy place,” says Walt. “My fellow woodworkers are like a bunch of brothers and the camaraderie that we share is like nothing else. We really enjoy collaborating on projects – whether it’s Activity Boards for The Garden, corn hole sets for the community, our own furniture projects, repairs for fellow residents, or even hand crafting a kayak – this work give us joy and knowing that it can make a difference for someone else, is icing on the cake,” concluded Walt.