Life at Thrive

Thrive Memory Care is changing the way the Coastal Bend treats Alzheimer’s and dementia.

By: Kathleen Naderer
Photos by: Fusion Fotography

As the rate of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are skyrocketing, families are finding themselves caught in the tension of how to provide the best care for their loved ones. Traditionally, this has led to many of the people suffering from memory regression being placed in assisted-living facilities with a memory care component typically known as “locked units.”

Thrive Memory Care hopes to change this approach. As Bronston Carroll, the executive director, explained, “Our focus and passion is caring for those who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, ensuring they still have quality of life in this stage.”

Thrive Senior Living, represented through Thrive Memory Care in Corpus Christi, is an innovative organization founded in 2008 that focuses on raising the standard for senior living. Based out of Atlanta, Thrive has more than 20 communities in eight states, including three in Texas: Georgetown, Keller and Corpus Christi.

As an essential member of Thrive Senior Living’s team, Carroll uses the leadership skills he developed as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and area manager at Amazon.com to help shape memory care into a more resident-focused industry.

“I’ve always loved being part of something bigger than myself,” he said. “We are the first ‘memory care only’ community in Corpus Christi. This means we have the responsibility to raise the bar for memory care – not just in our community, but in the Coastal Bend community as a whole.”

Carroll, who gained his undergraduate degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in political science and his master’s in global leadership from the University of San Diego School of Business, was considered an outsider to the senior housing industry before taking his role as executive director.

Thrive knows that environment really does matter, so they focused on finding someone who could help create that right environment. Although Carroll has been trained by the National Institute of Dementia Education (NIDE), it is the experience he brings to Thrive and the senior housing industry that is pushing progress.

Carroll is happy to showcase the beneficial steps his community takes to foster an exceptional care environment for residents and their families. “We asked ourselves what things, whether you have dementia or not, are really important?” Carroll said. “Then we built our community around those answers.”

A traditional senior community consists of assisted living and memory care. Without the ability to specialize, facilities are trying to accommodate the needs of someone with dementia in an environment designed for seniors just needing assistance. Memory care residents are often regulated to a lockdown unit for safety purposes. Even though this can protect seniors with dementia, the confined feeling of a “lockdown” wing can often lead to frustration, agitation and anxiety.

From small-scale architecture to team and resident interactions to word choice, everything is intentionally designed around the concepts of freedom, respect, dignity, normality and quality of life.

Thrive strives to limit locked doors, providing both residents and their families with 24-hour access throughout the neighborhood units and the courtyard, creating a secure community through thoughtful design and the use of technology.

“Words matter. ‘Lockdown’ is something that causes a negative emotion,” said Chelsea Craig, admission director. “We know there is a way to couple the need for security with a welcoming, resident-focused environment.”

Those touring Thrive Memory Care will quickly realize that the community is intentionally designed, making it easier for residents to navigate and move freely throughout the home. The four neighborhood units have identical or mirrored layouts, each centered on a common kitchen and living space in order to encourage residents to spend time outside of their rooms.

This open-concept kitchen and living area serves as the heart of each neighborhood, where residents and their care teams can sit down together for normal, family-style meals rather than cafeteria fare. Residents, staff and family also gather here to watch television, play games and host holiday parties and other events. “Health is directly correlated to someone’s interactions,” Carroll elaborated. “Isolation can be connected to declining health.”

All staff members enjoy engaging with their residents and forming positive relationships with them. There is a “hug rotation” every hour on the hour, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., during which the care team and leadership give residents hugs, high-fives or some form of compassionate touch. Positive touches such as these have been shown to release endorphins; plus, these interactions build connectivity between the staff and residents.

Before moving to Thrive, families of the residents fill out a form that shares important background information that is used for “life memorization” by employees. Employees, therefore, have a reference point for each resident and ways to engage each of them. As a bonus, care team members can also earn extra money by taking an assessment demonstrating how well they know each of the residents.

Carroll is quick to acknowledge that the true heroes in the operation are the care team members who spend endless hours loving and caring for residents. “Our job in leadership is to remove barriers and equip the care team to do what they love to do: connect and care for the residents,” he said. “The life memorization and hug rotation are tools we use to do that.”

Strategies such as these help Thrive staff provide personalized care seeing residents as people with a family and a history, not just a room number. “Often, with dementia, people lose their ability to communicate,” Carroll said. “Therefore, it is imperative that our team knows our resident’s life history when they are no longer able to tell us.”

Carroll knows personally how this head-to-heart alignment is necessary for creating a loving environment focused on resident health and quality of life. “I remember when my grandmother went to the hospital with a broken hip,” he recalled. “Although she was only 72, she never recovered from that. My mother used to say that she died from a broken heart, not a broken hip. What started as a broken hip became something that she couldn’t pull herself out of, because the environment wasn’t right. In a lot a ways, she gave up hope because she felt like she became relegated to simply being known as a room number, instead of a person with a name and history.”

Carroll believes that a critical part of Thrive’s exceptional care stems from a community where the care team loves to come to work, the families of residents love to visit and all parties feel like they have a voice.

“One of the ways communities should measure their success in creating the right environment is by the families’ level of involvement,” he said. “The family involvement here has been astounding. That’s because of our community’s culture. We continually hear how it just feels different here.”

Thrive recognizes part of creating an environment focused on personalized care is acknowledging the need for residents to have independence and privacy. Emphasizing the idea of normalcy, the residents’ rooms do not have standard call buttons or pull cords. In lieu of these outdated means of monitoring patients, Thrive has implemented the VIGIL resident monitoring system.

VIGIL sensors throughout the room are used to alert the care team to any irregular activity that might indicate a resident needs assistance. “Our technology gives us insight into a resident’s needs without actually being in the room,” Craig explained.

These sensors can be customized based on each individual’s needs. This technology allows residents to have as much independence as possible without losing dignity or compromising the quality of care.

“There are very few communities that are doing what we’re doing,” Carroll proudly stated. “We feel honored to be driving innovation in memory care for the Coastal Bend. Our hope is that the progress we are making will lead to a greater evolution of what memory care looks like in the next few years.”

As Thrive grows, Carroll plans to continue reaching out to the Coastal Bend community in order to raise awareness and educate people about improving quality of life for those with dementia.

“Unfortunately, dementia is still a very taboo topic,” he said. “People don’t like to talk about it, and our hope is to change that. The fact that we don’t like to talk about it actually hinders the level of care and quality of life not only for the one dealing with dementia, but their loved ones. With memory regression, people may not remember what happens a day or a week from now, but they remember the feelings that happen in those moments. It’s amazing! When you focus on impacting moments, they mean something. Therefore, we have to begin to talk more about how to impact those moments.”

Thrive Memory Care is located at 7245 McArdle Road. If you or your loved ones are interested in learning more about their memory care community, visit their website at www.thrivememorycare.com, call 361-288-4695 or email hello@thrivememorycare.com to schedule a tour.