National Assisted Living Week showcases what assisted living has to offer

Peg Husby always welcomes people to stop in to Grace Willowbrook in Eau Claire, where she is the director, to see what assisted living is all about. This is why she and her team, along with the teams at all of the Grace Lutheran Communities assisted living facilities, celebrate National Assisted Living Week, which falls September 13-19 this year.

“It gives us a chance to bring in people from the community and showcase our residents, their wonderful talents and abilities, and what their lifestyle is like when they move to assisted living,” Husby said.


This year’s theme, established by the National Center for Assisted Living, is “Nourishing Life: Mind, Body, Spirit.” Husby said Grace relates to this because residents come to Grace Willowbrook to enhance their lifestyle, not necessarily to rest.

“We really want them to stay strong and healthy, and not just their body but their mind as well,” she said.

The team at Grace Willowbrook accomplishes this in a number of ways. They have a vibrant exercise group, go on various monthly outings, and offer several games and activities each week. Husby said she wants to make every day better for her residents, whatever that might mean.

“We really try hard to be focused on letting them sit in the driver’s seat,” she said. “We’ll ask, ‘What activities do you like? Let’s look at the menu and see if there are some things that we can add that are your favorites. Bring your recipes down, and if we can, let’s try them.’”

This is what, according to Husby, sets assisted living at Grace apart: person-centered care, an approach that really speaks to her. When someone new moves in she wants to find out about him or her. What did they like to do before they came? How can that fit in to what they do at Grace Willowbrook? Husby said this is how she personally relates to this year’s theme of “Nourishing Life.”

“For me it’s really embodying what people bring to us,” she said, “Knowing what their interests are and trying to move them to try new things. Just because you’re 90 doesn’t mean you don’t want to try a painting class, or another hobby that you may be interested in, or establishing new friendships.” 


Residents are able to try new things and do the things that are meaningful to them because the team at Grace Willowbrook takes care of the day-to-day details.

“We prepare the meals, we do the laundry, we take care of the housekeeping, so they can focus on the things that are really enjoyable or important to them at this stage in their life,” Husby said. “It’s kind of a scary thing when people have to move and then suddenly are living communally, which they’re not normally used to doing, and we try to make that transition as smooth as possible.

Part of making that transition is choosing an assisted living facility to move to. Husby said she thinks the most important thing they can communicate to people who don’t know a lot about assisted living is: you need to go and visit communities before you need them. Each facility is a little different, and knowing about them before you need them can make the decision easier.

“Our niche is a little bit different than the assisted living down the road, and assisted living is a huge umbrella,” she said. “There are very different communities that fall under assisted living, so knowing that, it is important to visit communities, talk to friends and neighbors, and ask questions.”

National Assisted Living Week is a great time to visit assisted living facilities because many have special events happening throughout the week. Grace Willowbrook kicked off the week with a Grandparent’s Day celebration, and will be holding a tiny collectibles gallery on the afternoon of the 17th.

“Several of the residents collect little miniatures, so they’re going to be bringing their things and we’re going to set up a little gallery for an afternoon where people can come down and look at the things others have collected over time,” Husby said.

Husby has always wanted to work with older individuals, and this is why she enjoys with working at Grace Willowbrook.

“I’ve always had a heart for elders,” she said. “I just love them, and every day is different. Every day is kind of an adventure for me.”

Written by Grace Lutheran Communities staff writer


Walk to End Alzheimer’s hits close to home at Grace Lutheran Communities


According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease every 67 seconds. Jamie Larson, director of Grace Edgewood and Grace Woodlands, wants to change that. She is on Eau Claire’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s planning committee, which raised more than $80,000 last year for Alzheimer’s awareness, education, and research. She said the cause has become important to her because she sees the disease touch people on a daily basis.


“It’s a family disease,” she said. “It’s not just that person that suffers. It’s their
extended family, their friends, their grandchildren, children. It’s everyone that really is challenged by the progressive downturn of their health, both physical and psychosocial.”

Larson sees individuals in all stages of dementia; from those who are bed-bound and in their last days of life to those who simply can’t remember which way their room is anymore. She said that she can see how frustrating it is for them to be in a building and not remember where the restroom is or how to get where they need to go.

“It’s challenging to see people like that, and their families, struggle with that.”

Grace Edgewood has traditional assisted living units and memory care units, while Grace Woodlands is a complete skilled memory care assisted living community. There are individuals with mild to moderate memory loss living in traditional assisted living, and they receive some care in that environment. The memory care units are for individuals with moderate to end-stage dementia. Both facilities have safety measures in place, like wander-guard systems, to make sure residents are not leaving the building without the staff knowing or getting out of bed in the middle of the night.

“We have silent alarms to make sure they aren’t annoying or agitating to that individual, said Larson, “but the staff can still make sure that if they are getting up to use the restroom in the middle of the night we can go and assist them do that for safety reasons.”

It takes a special team to work with people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Larson said her team focuses on meeting clients where they’re at.

“Their reality is our reality. If they think they are 15 years old and their mom’s coming home to cook them dinner, then that’s what’s going on. That’s what we do, that kind of therapeutic redirection is the big thing.”

When looking for someone to work with their clients who have Alzheimer’s, Larson said they have to make sure someone not only has the physical skill to provide personal cares, but also the personality and the desire to want to care for someone’s mental challenges before they are hired to work in this setting.

“The training is challenging. Those who’ve had family members or friends who’ve had the disease, I think they can attest to the fact that it’s a hard adjustment for people to get used to, and everyone has different triggers and different things that are important to know about that person to be able to care for them.”

There’s also more than having the patience and the training to be able to care for individuals with dementia. Edit_14It’s having the heart. The aides have to be able to support not only that person but also their family members that come in and need some education. They help educate families on the front lines of why their loved one is acting this way.

“The journey, the disease, is really a family issue. You can teach someone how to provide the physical aspects of things, but if they don’t genuinely care for people, that’s not going to be a good fit for us, for that person and for their family.”

Larson believes that knowing what’s important to someone is a big part of making the transition from living at home to living at an assisted-living facility a smooth one. The staff at Grace strives for personalized care and wants to make things as home-like as they possibly can.

“Our number one goal is: This will never be their home that they lived in for 40 years, but we want to make this a darn close second. If it was important for your grandpa to go for a walk every morning, if that’s what he did at home, we’re going to try our hardest to make that happen.”

Larson said that talking about long-term care for a family member is different for everyone.

“Everyone wants to keep their loved one at home as long as possible, which is great, but I think it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of doing that.”

Caregiver burnout is a big risk. Taking care of an individual with memory loss puts a different stress load on a family member than it does on those who are doing it in a professional setting and are trained to handle it.

“I tell people, ‘When you place your mother in an assisted living facility, when you come see her you’ll be able to enjoy your time with her’,” said Larson. “You won’t have to worry about when her next medication time is. You won’t have to worry about if she ate enough for lunch. You can simply enjoy the time you have with her.”

Staff members from all Grace Lutheran Communities’ facilities participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Eau Claire. This year’s walk will be held Saturday, September 12th at Carson Park. Not only is the two-mile walk great exercise, getting involved and making a donation can help family members, friends, and all individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by 2050 up to 16 million Americans will have the disease. Larson wants everyone to know that the numbers are growing.

“This is becoming a bigger issue in our country, so it’s important to make sure that we are supporting the cause and supporting research to hopefully find a cure.”

To register for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Eau Claire, or to learn more, visit

Written by Grace Lutheran Communities staff writer