THE SYNERGY RESULTING FROM the creative collaboration of Talus Rock Retreat with Sandpoint’s Valley Vista Care residents is bringing rosy cheeks and happier attitudes to some of the facility’s behavioral unit residents. The partnership offers a little more sunshine and purpose into the lives of some of the senior dementia patients while helping to complete some light chores around the luxury lodging Retreat.
Guided by individual caregivers, select residents have the opportunity to venture out from the facility and participate in specifically designated and appropriate activities at Talus Rock Retreat, located one mile outside of downtown Sandpoint. Outdoor and indoor activities allow the facility-bound residents to experience household and ranch life in a supervised convenient location.
The hope is to enrich the lives of Valley Vista residents and concurrently help Talus Rock Retreat with its daunting number of warm weather tasks. Physically healthy and willing residents get involved with small labor projects; whether it’s holding a rake, pruning a bush, watering plants, cleaning a window, or sweeping a deck, residents enjoy the satisfaction of completing a task.
“Pace is not the point,” Talus Rock Retreat’s owner, Heather Pedersen cites. “It’s about creating purpose in conquering small tasks for these residents while doing something productive. It’s been great for the residents to again find joy in work - work that many are unable to find or do under their circumstances. It is truly a win-win scenario!”
Wheelchair-bound residents are able to participate with handiwork tasks, and those few who choose not to participate simply rest outside, watch birds through the binoculars, soak up the sun and fresh air, pet ‘Panda’ the Retreat’s canine icon, or simply enjoy the fabulous mountain views for a change of scenery.
While it may appear that the community initiative is capitalizing on free labor, the intrinsic value to these elderly who have worked on farms and in mills all their lives is immeasurable.
“Talus Rock Retreat provides coordination, staffing and snacks for facilitating the outing. It is more of a symbiotic public service relationship with purpose and intent,” claims Abbie Gage, Valley Vista Care Resident Supervisor. “Dementia patients are indeed a special population, and although they get mentally trapped, many of our residents are physically able to do many things. They seem truly grateful for the opportunity to use their motor skills and be physically active with a task, chore or purpose.”
The idea came to Heather when their adopted surrogate grandfather, 83-yearold John Mittl, became a full time resident of Valley Vista. “Having no family of his own, Johnny followed us here from Pennsylvania. Prior to his acute onset of dementia, we had taken care of him for almost two decades. It’s been difficult to see the man who changed tires, ran household errands, and fixed virtually everything broken, forget which state he lives in or get lost heading to the bathroom,” Heather says. “But we’ve never given up on him. He is like family.”
One day Heather decided to bring Johnny home for the afternoon. Under her care and supervision, Johnny puttered around the garage and grounds for hours. Heather watched the oppression from inactivity lift. “I began to notice an improvement in Johnny’s balance, appearance, attitude, and overall happiness.” She smiles. “It was Johnny’s renewed vigor and disposition that lead me to consider proposing this win-win partnership with Valley Vista!”
Abbie cites, “We noticed a genuine change in Johnny, and although his memory has never returned, his delusions have decreased, his energy has increased, and he smiles more frequently.” Abbie is excited about the endeavor. “Helping our elderly and dementia individuals regain a sense of purpose and usefulness has been terrific. Though the mind can suffer, the body often doesn’t. The cooperative opportunity provides something purposeful to do, something that they can do, and be helpful while doing it. They genuinely look forward to the weekly outing at Talus Rock Retreat!”
Heather is also considering inviting Sandpoint High School’s CNA and Career Pathways students to join the weekly endeavor to job shadow to not only augment the synergy but to encourage intergenerational learning, teamwork and connection. Heather says, “Talus Rock Retreat is about partnering with our community and our world to bring connection, joy and hope into the lives of others. I truly enjoy the creative challenge of thinking outside the box and providing opportunities where everyone benefits!"