A Mindful Approach

Appears in the September 2021 issue.

Natalie McFarland, executive director of Terra Vista

Research and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other memory-related afflictions have advanced considerably since Natalie McFarland first entered the field as a registered nurse in 2002. One of the most encouraging developments she’s seen in that time is the simple recognition of each of these issues as the individual and specialized conditions they truly are, rather than having them all lumped into one general bucket. 

“It’s been very refreshing to see how society and the medical field have really recognized the need for these specialized areas of care,” says McFarland, who today serves as executive director of Terra Vista Memory Care Assisted Living in Oakbrook Terrace. “When you’re serving those with these diagnoses, it definitely requires a different technique and approach.”

That mindset helped guide the design and development of Terra Vista, a facility dedicated exclusively to those dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The square-shaped, barrier-free building eschews blocking residents’ direct paths with frustrating dead ends or locked doors, and the staff members are specially trained to “live their reality” when it comes to interactions with residents. McFarland says the end goal is to reduce residents’ stress and help them create joy in the moment—not to focus on what they’ve lost.

She recommends a similar approach for families and loved ones who suspect a relative may be suffering the onset of memory loss. While there are plenty of brain stimulation activities to help seniors maintain their mental agility, it’s important to be aware of noticeable changes in behavior or personality, such as sudden mood swings, loss of spatial awareness, or disorientation with respect to time, place, or people—warning signs that may warrant a consultation with a physician. And as she helps others through the oft-painful process of memory loss, McFarland finds great satisfaction in helping to ease the journey for both patients and their families—a dedication that helped earn her national recognition as the Certified Dementia Practitioner of the Year in 2019. 

“I’m just so pleased with the strides that the industry has made [in dementia treatment],” she says. “We’ve come a long way in moving toward person-centered care, which is really just another way to say doing what makes sense for each individual. They’re still a person, and you want to honor who they’ve always been and not just look at them as their diagnosis today.”