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John Zeisel

I had a fascinating conversation with John Zeisel, the other day.  John is President and co-founder of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, which operates six top notch dementia care units/facilities in the Northeast U.S.

Hearthstone's mission is to create residential treatment environments where people living with Alzheimer's and related disorders can flourish.  They've been at it for more than 20 years.

According to John, there are enough assisted living facilities in the U.S. to accommodate the growing numbers of people living with Alzheimers, but that many just aren't "doing it right."

Not a Disease

Instead of creating programs and a culture of caring that allows residents to have a meaningful quality of life, many, he claims, are simply drugging Alzheimer's residents and sitting them in front of the TV.  That may be an oversimplification, but John believes we should we stop viewing Alzheimer's as a disease and treat it as a condition.

"Drug research is not going to give us the answer," John says. "We need to focus less on finding a cure and more on improving the lives of people living with Alzheimer's."

Focus on Quality of Life

I'm not sure I agree with John that there are enough assisted living facilities in the U.S. to accommodate triple the population of those living with Alzheimer's (see my recent post). But I do agree with him that the focus should be on quality of life.

Also, John's ideas about making our communities more friendly to those with memory loss are really interesting.  "The real issue is making a commitment to action," he says. "We know what to do."

To learn more about John's philosophy of  living with Alzheimer's (including some ideas about facility design), check out John's book, "I'm Still Here."

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Leave a comment

Elsie Cheng

10 years ago

Thank you for this post.

I agree with Mr.Zeisel that Alzheimer's is a condition and not a disease. I wish there are proper facilities in Ontario, Canada for those with Alzheimer, Dementia, MS, ALS, etc. For Alzheimer's, the money spent on research to find a cure should be spent on proper facilities, education and training for families (homecare) and caregivers taking care of those with Alzheimer's.

Here in Ontario, Canada, those suffering from both Alzheimer's and Dementia are "locked" up once they are admitted into long-term care facilities. Families never know how they are truly treated as they cannot be there 24/7. From my experience, almost most of the staff are "part-time" and are not trained properly including the nurses.

Sad to say those outside of Canada think that Canadian health care is great, but it really is not from my experience. I had seen it first hand from well-known hospitals to long-term care facilities to homecare. At every election, political candidates campaigned that they would provide more funds towards healthcare (hospitals, long-term care facilities, etc.) but unfortunately the government does not have control over how and where they are spent.

I looked after my mother (in a coma after a borged cranial surgery to remove a brain tumour) for 5 years, 15 hours a day, 3 of which was home cared because while in the hospitals (3 different ones)as soon as she was stable, she was discharged.

As an interior designer myself, I have discovered through my research that even in the newest facilities (beautiful visually) they are missing the functional details that matter most.

All healthcare designers and architects involved in the planning and design should ask the right questions, physically do more research by observing the daily operation of these healthcare facilities so as to discover (as I have) what work and/or do not work from planning, infection prevention, operational, functional, fixtures/finishes selections, right through to the tiniest details such as glove box holders and placement.

Sara Marberry

10 years ago

Thank you, Elsie, for your comments. It's true that healthcare providers often miss the details of patient care relative to the physical environment.

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What's my story? I'm a healthcare and senior living design knowledge expert who writes and speaks frequently about trends and issues affecting these two industries. I'm also a strategic marketing consultant and content creator, working with companies and organizations who want to improve the quality of healthcare and senior living through the design of the physical environment. You can reach me at .

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