SOUTH BARRINGTON – Memory care centers have become a home away from home for longtime Autumn Leaves director Barbara Schechtel, who is overseeing the build-out of a new $11.1 million residential complex in South Barrington.
The 29,000 square-foot center will cater to those living with Alzheimer's and dementia, hosting up to 45 residents of any age. A grand opening is scheduled for July 31, but Schechtel said residents can move in mid-month. The organization prefers to call the center a "community."
Autumn Leaves, based in Irving, Texas, has nine communities open or under construction in Chicago suburbs. Nearby communities include Crystal Lake, Vernon Hills, Orland Park, Oswego, St. Charles and Bolingbook. Construction is set for Glen Ellyn and Arlington Heights.
Unique to South Barrington will be the first motion sensor vigil system, which is in each resident's private room, allowing for safer independent living. The system alerts around-the-clock staff members of unexpected movement.
Schechtel said sensors will be in rooms and bathrooms to detect motion in the middle of the night.
"The vigil system shows we are all about the quality of our care," Schechtel said. "We understand the unique needs of memory impaired residents and want to be able to help 24-7."
In addition to the vigil system, Autumn Leaves communities feature automatic bathroom lights to prevent falls, medication management, indoor and outdoor activities, chaperoned trips, physicians and nurses, group activities, fresh-cooked meals, laundry and bathing, 24-hour visitation, private rooms for family events, libraries, and all-inclusive care.
Sales and marketing director Lora Ellis said all-inclusive care is something rarely found outside of Autumn Leaves.
Residents sign on to a month-to-month lease and families are never burdened by an increased level of care, Ellis said, explaining that she became interested in senior living about four years ago while seeking care for her own mother.
"I saw how important care is and how expensive it can be when someone needs more and more care – more services," Ellis said. "Autumn Leaves is different. Families aren't taking on additional costs as residents age."
Residents must have an Alzheimer's or dementia diagnosis, but many Autumn Leaves events will serve the greater public, Ellis said.
The South Barrington location will offer opportunities for volunteerism, community seminars and an overnight respite program, in which families can check their loved ones in to Autumn Leaves while on vacation.
Regular activities include group cooking, dancing, singing, cognitive games, supper clubs, arts and crafts, gardening, pet therapy and more. Schechtel said trips area already planned for nearby restaurants and Goebbert's Farm and Garden Center but staff will mostly talk to new residents and families to learn what their individual interests may be.
Schechtel's passion for memory care developed as an Autumn Leaves volunteer seven years ago, she said.
"I love what I do. It doesn't even feel like work," Schechtel said. "I would sit and all with residents as they ate their lunches, and through that experience, I realized that I wanted to work with Autumn Leaves and have the opportunity to help more families."
Schechtel said the South Barrington location is ideal – built in a volunteer-oriented community just 5 miles from St. Alexius Medical Center.
Ellis added Autumn Leaves residents are visibly happy, and that's what keeps her going.
"When you walk in, the love you feel is real," Ellis said. "For our residents, this is their home and making sure they feel at home is at the heart of what we do."