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Wentworth Home plans memory care building to meet growing need

Foster's Daily Democrat - 9/10/2019

Sep. 10--DOVER -- The Wentworth Home is looking to construct a two-story memory care unit to better serve the increasing number of area residents who have Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

The plan is in the early stages of the city's approval processes, but if accepted the 18-bed addition would be the 121-year-old assisted living facility's first major expansion in 52 years.

"Most assisted living now has to do with some kind of memory care," said Wentworth Home Administrator Kirstin Swanson. "But, if this goes through, this would allow us to address higher-level memory care needs in a more secure environment."

Demand for dementia-related care is on the rise in communities and assisted living facilities across the country, according to healthcare experts.

An estimated 5.8 million Americans live with Alzheimer's disease, a form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates the number of Americans living with the disease is projected to increase to nearly 14 million by 2050. Likewise, the association estimates the number of deaths due to dementia will also increase, based on the fact that the number of documented deaths from Alzheimer's increased 145 percent between 2000 to 2017.

Comparatively, heart disease, the nation's leading cause of death, decreased 9 percent over that same period, according to the association.

The Wentworth Home is located within a 1898 Victorian-style building at 795 Central Ave., next to Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.

Many specifics surrounding the memory care unit project are still being determined, such as the total cost, potential construction timelines, and the unit's model of care, Swanson said. She said that's because they're still in the "discovery phase" of the engineering and architecture work.

Despite that, Swanson said she, her board and her staff are excited about the possibility of writing a major new chapter in the Wentworth Home's history. She said they're also confident it will help position the home well as rising healthcare costs continue to strain facilities nationwide.

"(Costs are) definitely increasing," she said. "One thing I love about the Wentworth Home is we're a nonprofit and we're driven to serve the community. Our current rates are high, but significantly lower than several other facilities in the area. (We) take it very seriously how we can project a model into the future and honor our mission statement and our place in the community to be able to provide affordable care."

Engineers and architects for the Wentworth Home met with the city's Technical Review Committee last Thursday. At least one additional technical review will take place in the coming weeks, after which the project could require planning or zoning approvals, depending on the ultimate scope of the project.

The current architectural plans call for a 21,700-square-foot addition to be built on the north side of the Wentworth Home, where a small field currently exists. Swanson said this area was a key reason why they installed the home's new, second elevator near it in 2016.

"At that time, we tried to look into the future," she said, adding that the elevator is what will allow them to make the memory care unit two stories.

Swanson said the addition will create a new, more secure space for individuals with special memory care needs. Plans filed with the city indicate the project will add 18 memory care units and six assisted living units to the Wentworth Home, which currently has 18 assisted living units.

The project is expected to free up space within the existing structure, although Swanson said Wentworth Home officials haven't yet determined how that will be reused due to the ongoing technical reviews.

"It does open a different realm of possibilities for the existing building," Swanson said when asked if the Wentworth Home could add new assisted living programming as a result of the addition.

Drainage, traffic and codes are among the items the TRC reviewed last Thursday, according to Swanson and meeting materials on the city's website.

Ahead of Thursday's review, Assistant City Manager Chris Parker said city staff recognize the need for more memory care to help the region's aging residents.

"While Dover continues to attract a younger demographic, there is always a need to care for our elderly," he said. "The closer that care can be to services the better. It is especially nice to have an existing facility, with such a strong reputation for care, expanding in Dover, as opposed to looking elsewhere to continue to meet the market needs."


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