Knowledge Center

Banking on KC - Mandy Shoemaker of Prairie Elder Care & Connectivities

 

Listen Now, or read the transcript below:

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Mandy Shoemaker, the co-founder of Prairie Elder Care and Connectivities. Mandy is a dementia care expert who is setting a new standard for dementia care in the Midwest. Welcome, Mandy.

Mandy Shoemaker:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Kelly Scanlon:

What is it about your approach to dementia care that has set this new standard?

Mandy Shoemaker:

Well, my sister-in-law, Michala, and I founded Prairie Elder Care in 2014, and we set out to create a place where life would continue for our residents when they moved in. Just because they were living with dementia and needed 24-hour care, didn't mean that they didn't continue to have a life worth living. It is really involves more than just providing good physical care.

And so we look at things through the lens of ensuring that our residents have a feeling of control because when people feel in control, they're able to connect with the world around them, whether it's people, whether it's their environment, animals, we do a lot with animals. And so when we have connections, then we feel a part of community, and those are the kinds of things that give us purpose. So those are the things that we've really focused on that I feel have led us to be setting the bar in Kansas City.

Kelly Scanlon:

So I heard three Cs there. You've got control, you've got connections, and you've got the community. Talk with us about the engagement in the community. I know, for example, that you do restaurant training, what's that about? And what are some of the other examples of the community engagement and exposure?

Mandy Shoemaker:

One of our missions is minimizing the stigma of dementia, that our hope is that someday there will be a world where when somebody is diagnosed with dementia, it's not just this gut punch. We believe that education is a huge stepping stone to impacting the stigma. And so we have done trainings in training restaurants so that they can welcome people who are living with dementia. So how do you wait on somebody who's living with dementia without kind of putting them on the spot or assuming that someone else is going to talk for them? We also have done a lot of education with youth. So we have a location called the Prairie Farmstead, where we have animals and big gardens and a barn, and just lots of neat things to do. And we have had a day camp for kids, usually second and third graders. And so they come and learn how to interact with people living with dementia and then practice their skills with our residents.

And it's just really a magical thing. So we have also worked extensively with the local high school volunteer program. So they're community service programs. We have a large community garden and just coming up in October, we have one of the Blue Valley High Schools coming to help us clear out the garden and clean out the beds and prepare them for winter. And we really feel like just because somebody is living with dementia, doesn't mean they need to hide. We want to be encouraging and creating a community where they're welcomed and feel comfortable getting out and about.

Kelly Scanlon:

As you said, when you get to meet and have that interaction with people, it not only helps the resident feel engaged, it also helps to take away the stigma because when you meet a person and you get to know that person through working with them in the garden or whatever it might be, you see the person on the other end. And you have those, as you describe them, magical moments. And so it really is a win-win for everyone.

Mandy Shoemaker:

It never ceases to amaze me how young people can connect with people living with dementia. And I think they are so often just delighted by the connections that they can make and what these people still have to offer.

Kelly Scanlon:

How widespread is dementia? I mean, we hear about it a lot and you have been referring to dementia. I know some people say Alzheimer's, I know there is a distinction, but talk to us about the various forms of dementia and how widespread it is.

Mandy Shoemaker:

Dementia is kind of the overall descriptor. So dementia is the umbrella, and then Alzheimer's is a type of dementia. It's the most prominent type of dementia. And then there's Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and 80 other kinds of dementia. So vascular dementia is very common, which comes from strokes and other cardiology issues. In terms of how widespread dementia is, I think we all either have somebody very close to us who is experiencing dementia or has experienced dementia, or at least we know someone who has someone who's very close to them. Overall, worldwide, there are 60 million people living with dementia, currently. We hear so much talk about the baby boomers and the Silver Tsunami, I mean, those numbers are only going to increase.

Kelly Scanlon:

You were an elementary school principal before you became an entrepreneur, Mandy, what led you to launch Prairie Elder Care?

Mandy Shoemaker:

So my sister-in-law and I started Prairie Elder Care, and she's a nurse. And the two of us, over the winter of 2013, would be at family dinners. So she was the director of nursing at a large facility in Olathe. And we would both just kind of think about the things that we could do together. Neither one of us was happy with where we were and we felt we both had a lot of experience managing people. We both had done a lot of work in fields where it's all based on relationships and building trust. And so eventually, within, interestingly, the spring of 2013, my dad was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, which is sometimes considered the first stage of Alzheimer's. And so we just, I think, felt he was not in need of care at the time. And so we started with consulting. We did a little bit of consulting and helping people find places to live.

And we really saw that there was a need with memory care, specifically for people living with dementia, that they just seemed so lost in the larger facilities. And so the way Prairie Elder Care is set up is that we just have eight or nine people that live in each home. They get so much attention and TLC and not just that physical self-care kind of hygiene and those kinds of things that we think about. But there are people there around to interact with them and keep them company and build connections and just keep them socially and cognitively active. We just had a passion for making life better for people.

Kelly Scanlon:

Instead of giving referrals, you decided to create your own environment and start accepting residents yourself. So you say that there's eight or nine, you call it a Farmstead. So within these homes, how do the residents exercise control that they might not have if they were to go to another place?

Mandy Shoemaker:

Sure. So feeling in control is really different for somebody living with dementia than it would be for you or me. Because when somebody's living with dementia, they lose different abilities, for everybody, the progression of the disease is different, but when you lose the ability to care for yourself, to stay in your own home, to stay with... If you're still married, with a spouse or with your children. Our belief is that control comes from needs being proactively met. And so if you think about me or you, and if we are in control, we know if you have kids, you know where your kids are, you know they're safe, you know that your personal needs have been met. And if any of those things is not right, then you're distracted. You are looking to fill that need. We say we proactively meet needs and help people feel like all is right with the world.

So for example, we have the right coffee creamer in our coffee. We have our eggs made the way somebody likes their eggs, or they always have oatmeal for breakfast, or they like to sleep in. And so then they can eat their breakfast at 10 o'clock and then they just have a little snack at lunch. So we can adapt our schedule and the way we approach things to meet this particular person's preferences. They aren't controlled by a schedule or something that's kind of being put on them because of the need for efficiency in a larger community. And so if someone appears to be feeling out of control, that's how we approach it. What is it in the environment that's making them feel out of control, that's keeping them from feeling in control? This is something that just was really kind of a light bulb moment for me in my journey of learning about dementia and everything.

We talk a lot about sundowning. And usually, it happens in the afternoon. For, let's say, someone who is a stay-at-home mom, their day was all about being prepared for kids coming home from school and dad coming home from work. So during that afternoon time, that was go time for them. And so when there's not a lot going on and I'm seeking that feeling of purpose and busyness, then I might start to feel anxious during that time or for somebody who has had a very fulfilling career and work was a really important part of their life. When we are seeking that kind of fulfillment, those kinds of things can help us feel out of control as well.

Kelly Scanlon:

So what do you do to plug that gap or to create the sense of control during that period of time?

Mandy Shoemaker:

Well, it's different for everybody because I think you want to try to identify what it is. The Farmstead, we have all these great things that we can do. So we might take that person to feed the animals. We might take that person to do something in the garden. We have a wonderful koi pond that has a waterfall. So just to be outside and have a place where you can have kind of a reset, a change in environment and setting and something that's going to be distracting and calming at the same time.

I was over there the other day, doing something with the animals and getting some things from the garden. And we have two gentlemen residents who were sitting out on the back porch, reading the paper, just engaging with each other. I mean, it was a great example of their needs were met, they were feeling in control. One of them has a dog stuffed animal that he is very attached to, thinking that it's a real dog, and the other one just kind of goes along with it. And so I think looking at creating the... It's experimental, so how can we keep trying different things that are going to help somebody respond and have that feeling of control?

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned a second company called Connectivities. You just opened that recently within the last several months. How does it fit in with your overall mission? What does it do?

Mandy Shoemaker:

Well, it's in the name, Connectivities. It is really focused on that connection piece. Connectivities really focuses on how can we create higher quality, deeper connections for people living with dementia? And so it's based on activities. We've developed a subscription box, a monthly box of activities that are designed to be implemented both in community settings. So in memory care communities or assisted living communities, or at home, we have different size boxes to meet those different needs. And they're just these really fun, well-thought-out activities that involve critical thinking and science, and nature, and building things, and crafts, and art, and the senses. We work really hard to just make it a very rich experience. So they're a monthly activity boxes for people living with dementia.

Kelly Scanlon:

And it comes with the instructions for all the activities. And I assume if there are... In some cases, there might actually be some of the tools that you would need as well.

Mandy Shoemaker:

All of it, it's every single thing. Our joke is that we don't ship water or scissors, but other than that, if you need it for the activity, it will be there. So every activity has step-by-step instructions and they are differentiated. So if an activity feels like it's too easy or too hard for somebody, there are ways to make it harder or ways to make it easier. There's also therapeutic goals for each activity. So if somebody's working on maintaining some fine motor skills or sequencing or reminiscing and other language skills, there are therapy goals with each activity. And then we also have video instructions for each activity. So there's a QR code in the package that you scan and it pulls up step-by-step video instructions for many of the activities. Some of them just need a little overview, like, "Oh, here's a quick 30 seconds on what this is going to look like." And then some need step-by-step instructions. So kind of whatever the activity lends itself too.

Kelly Scanlon:

Right. So you demonstrate it. And then each month, a different box comes with new activities to keep that stimulation going, can sign up through the website, connectivities.us. Correct?

Mandy Shoemaker:

Correct.

Kelly Scanlon:

And as Mandy was talking about, those are not just for caregivers within facilities, they are meant for people who are caring for relatives in the home as well.

Mandy Shoemaker:

Right. Or if you have a loved one who lives in a facility and you want to improve your visits with them. A lot of people, let's say, if somebody's going to visit their mom and they get frustrated because it's the same conversation over and over, or she keeps asking the same question, then this is something to hold the focus and to build a memorable connection and experience to have together.

Kelly Scanlon:

What tips can you give us for interacting with people with dementia? I mean, short of going through some of the training programs that you described earlier or subscribing to these boxes, give us a few, maybe high-level tips.

Mandy Shoemaker:

Yeah, absolutely. If it's somebody that you know, one of my favorite just kind of go-to tips that I think lets the pressure off of people is don't make things a quiz, feed them the information. So my grandpa had dementia and when I would go visit him, if I wasn't with my mom, he would have a hard time placing me. So I would just go and say, "Hey grandpa, it's Mandy, Mary Louise's daughter. How are you today?" And so there's no harm in just giving them the context, because a lot of times, for people living with dementia, they may perceive themselves as somebody who's not as old as they are. So if I'm a daughter of somebody living with dementia, when they see me, they're like, "My daughter can't be that old." Right?

Kelly Scanlon:

True. Right. I hadn't thought about that.

Mandy Shoemaker:

And so it's not that they don't know that they have a daughter named Mandy, it's that, "My daughter, Mandy, couldn't be nearly as old as this Mandy."

Kelly Scanlon:

Mm-hmm.

Mandy Shoemaker:

And so I think that's one of the things. Another thing is instead of asking them if they remember things, tell them stories that you remember. For example, we had a resident who lived with us, I'm from Kansas City, grew up around here and have had the great honor of caring for some of my friends growing up, parents, and just people that I knew as a child. One, in particular, was the dad of a family that I was very involved with when I was a kid. They had family albums in his room and I was in some of the pictures. And so I would just sit with him and tell him stories that I remembered that involved him. And he would just light up about those things. So I think not expecting them to have the capability to fill the conversation, but feeling comfortable to fill it yourselves with things that they might enjoy hearing about.

Kelly Scanlon:

You have a book that you've co-authored with your business partner, Michala Gibson, and it's called Now is Found. What's the message of that book?

Mandy Shoemaker:

It's all about this amazing feeling of what we call finding the now. So moments when the dementia slips away and things are just okay right now. I'm enjoying being with my mom. She might have dementia and be progressing with the disease, but it doesn't mean that we can't have a good time together still. So Now is Found lays out some of the things that I've talked about today with community, connection, and control, and when you have those foundational things, the control, the connections, it can lead to these incredible feelings of community where you're just happy to be there. Those times are just really gifts. And it's even one of the things that I think is important is those times aren't always happy. You can share a moment of grief or sorrow with your loved one, and sometimes that's even a deeper connection. I think it's just looking at how do we find those connections and value the different ways that we connect with how our loved one is now?

Kelly Scanlon:

And you can get that book on the website.

Mandy Shoemaker:

On our Prairie Elder Care website, which is prairieeldercare.com.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you can get the book, Now is Found, at prairieeldercare.com. Mandy, thank you so much for all the work you do. I know this is a community that is going to grow even larger. As you say, as with a Silver Tsunami and with some of the other demographic shifts that we're experiencing throughout the world really, right now, thank you so much for your dedication to this and for everything that you do. We appreciate it.

Mandy Shoemaker:

It's important and fulfilling work. So thanks for having me.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Mandy Shoemaker for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. As our population ages and we seek quality-of-life solutions for those facing health-related issues, people like Mandy and her team at Prairie Elder Care are vital. More than ever, we need people willing to look at the challenges from a different viewpoint, to suggest and implement new standards for care and to innovate. Country Club Bank has always recognized the important role community engagement plays in the vitality of a city, a neighborhood, even a family. It is not surprising to us then when Mandy emphasizes that community and connectedness are critical to the vitality and quality of life for dementia residents and that her small homes approach for residents delivers improved outcomes for them. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

Member FDIC / Equal Housing Lender

Trust, Investment and Insurance products and Services:

  • Are Not Insured by the FDIC or any other federal government agency.
  • Are Not deposits of, or guaranteed by, the Bank or any Bank affiliate.
  • May lose value.