An estimated 5.7 million people are living with dementia, yet few know how to handle the challenges that come along with it. White Oaks, in McHenry, provides care for dementia patients and resources for their families.
Seven years ago, Kim Ribar’s mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Four years later, it became Parkinson’s with dementia.
And over the past two years, the dementia has become more severe.
All during that time, Ribar – along with her father – willingly took on the responsibilities of caring for her mother.
But when her father suffered several major health issues, Kim knew she couldn’t care for her mom and dad and still run her business.
“We knew we had to do something,” says Ribar, who owns Kim and Patty’s Cafe in McHenry. “I told my dad that if we didn’t do something, I would be burying both of them. We had to make a decision.”
That decision was a move to White Oaks, a new community in McHenry designed to serve older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.
Ribar knew about White Oaks because of her friend Kelly Raske, who is the facility’s director of marketing.
“I knew Kelly before she got to White Oaks. She and my cousin previously worked at a retirement community.” Ribar says. “I always referred people to Kelly long before I even had a need.”
Ribar moved her mom into White Oaks in November 2017 and hasn’t regretted the decision.
“I love White Oaks,” Ribar says. “I love the layout of the whole place. My mom is a wanderer and on the move a lot. But White Oaks has a lot of space. They have arts and crafts for her, and they have live entertainment. Sometimes I bring my dad over to visit, and they have a ‘date day.’ It’s within five minutes of where I work and live, so for me, it’s the total package.”
That’s the goal of White Oaks, which opened last October at 4605 West Crystal Lake Road, next to the Heritage Woods of McHenry assisted living community.
“We want to be the resource for dementia, even if you don’t come here,” Raske says. “A lot of people don’t know where to go. If they just had a support group, they could get the help they need. We want to give people the tools to make the best decisions for their loved ones.”
An estimated 5.7 million people are living with dementia. Yet there are few who know how to deal with it – or who want to – especially older adults.
“I think they are embarrassed to ask for help,” Raske says. “That generation of seniors is used to ‘taking care of our own.’ There’s a lot of guilt associated with letting somebody you love being taken care of by somebody else. They’ll do it themselves if it kills them, and sometimes that actually happens. They just need to know that there are so many people going through this as well. They are not alone. We want them to know that it’s OK to ask for help.”
Lynn Graham and her husband knew they had to ask for help. Lynn’s mom had been living with them, but last summer she started getting confused and couldn’t be left alone for long stretches.
“It was getting very difficult,” Graham says. “She also has macular degeneration and can’t see well. And she began doing things like taking showers at midnight. One time my husband found her opening the front door to take a walk at 6 a.m. I contacted my brother, and he and my husband and I talked about what to do. It had become too difficult on us to take care of her. It was putting a strain on our lives. She needed a place that could care for her better 24 hours a day.”
The decision to go to White Oaks was an easy one. It was within three minutes of Graham’s home.
“I chose it because it was brand new and close by,” she says.
But it’s more than proximity that assures Graham she made the right choice.
“What I really like is that it’s very spacious,” she says. “My mom likes to walk and there’s plenty of room for her to walk around. The rooms are very nice, and there are plenty of places to visit so you don’t have to sit with other people while visiting.
“And the staff is wonderful,” she adds. “They have been very good to my mom. Every resident has different needs, and I know they meet my mom’s needs.
What makes White Oaks special is the quality of its personnel. The entire staff is trained to handle dementia patients, with some gaining additional, specialized training. And the training is continuous.
“Our staff is going for even more training than required,” Raske says. “And management is also being trained so we can teach the community at large.”
But there is more to a dementia care facility than knowing how to deal with residents. A good doctor not only knows how to handle sickness and disease; he also needs a good bedside manner. White Oaks is no different.
“We’re filled with compassion,” Raske says. “And we give our residents dignity. We really do care about the people, their family and their journey.”
White Oaks does this by getting to know the residents and their loved ones.
“We get a whole life history, not just a tip of the iceberg,” Raske says. “We find out things like, if a person is afraid of something like thunder. We then know how to help them get through a storm. It’s very individualized care.”
And that type of care is critical, since there are different levels of need.
“Some are in the very early stages of dementia,” Raske says. “You can’t tell they have cognitive changes. But after you talk with them for 15 minutes, you notice things. So, we want to keep them happy and engaged.
They’re just like us, except they have diminished cognitive capacity. We meet each person at their own level, where they are in their journey through dementia. We want to give them a good quality of life. We’ll take them out for ice cream or go to plays. We don’t want them isolated, just sitting in their bedroom watching TV.”
And White Oaks is there not only for the dementia sufferers, but also for their families, especially at the beginning stages.
“The most often-asked question we get is, ‘How do I tell mom or dad they are moving here? Do I lie?’” Raske says. “I say, be honest. It is a transition. It’s a difficult three to four days at move-in. There are some shaky times. But then they adapt. And we have our buddy program, with our staff, to get them integrated to a new routine.”
“I tell the families to let the guilt go,” she continues. “You’re doing something good for both your loved one and yourself. You can go back to your life. Our job is to be the safety net when the family drops them off. Some people love it from the get-go. It’s different for everybody.”
Raske emphasizes that White Oaks wants the transition to be like moving into a new home. And it has the services necessary to help make that transition smoother. Among them are:
• Ongoing health monitoring and nursing assessments
• Assistance with daily living routines, including bathing, dressing, personal hygiene, grooming, and getting to and from activities and dining
• Medication set-up, reminders and assistance
• Three restaurant-style meals served daily, plus snacks
• Weekly housekeeping and laundry services
• A range of interesting and varied programs and events
• Assistance with transportation needs
• 24-hour staffing by certified nursing assistants
Ribar can personally vouch for that home-away-from-home atmosphere.
“I brought my mom home for Easter, and after awhile, she was ready to go ‘back home,’” she says. “I sleep well at night knowing she’s safe and in good hands.”
Tours of White Oaks are available on both weekdays and weekends by calling (815) 344-2970 any time. Phones are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.