Pet-therapy dog visits members at memory care center
Walk through the front doors of The Ivey, a nonprofit wellness day center for adults experiencing dementia and memory loss, and you’ll feel as though you’ve entered a luxury lodge.
Situated in the heart of SouthPark, but nestled off Fairview Road enough to be hidden in a quiet wooded setting, The Ivey isn’t your typical memory care facility. No gray walls. No low ceilings. No linoleum flooring.
Instead, it boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that let in natural light, a masonry fireplace, wood-planked floors and cozy sitting areas.
But the heart of The Ivey has little to do with its state-of-the-art facilities.
Founder and CEO Lynn Ivey started The Ivey a decade ago as a tribute to her mother, who lived with Alzheimer’s disease, and her father, who served as her mother’s caregiver. The founder wanted a place that would not only enhance the lives of those living with dementia, but also serve their caregivers well.
During a typical day at The Ivey, which currently serves about 45 adults, members participate in a variety of rotating activities, ranging from mental stimulation, such as book discussions and trivia, to creative arts and recreation. Chef-inspired, healthy lunches and snacks are served each day. At the end of the day, Ivey members go home to their loved ones.
But The Ivey isn’t just a place for those with dementia. Part of its core value is to provide comfort and peace of mind for their caregivers.
“The staff here, we all have been affected in some way by Alzheimer’s or some other memory loss,” said Chief Operating Officer Janet LeClair, whose mother battled Alzheimer’s. “So what we do at The Ivey really is about the whole family, and finding the best way to care for everyone affected by the disease.”
Caring can come in all forms at The Ivey.
Most recently, it’s come in the form of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Duncan.
Three-year-old Duncan is a certified pet therapy dog. His owner, Joan Wright, is an executive business coach whose clients include the likes of Microsoft, Duke Energy and Bank of America.
Since January, the two have been spending their afternoons visiting on the back porch with guests at The Ivey.
Duncan provides an easy conversation piece for Ivey members, even if it’s harder for them to communicate with other people. They can hold Duncan, play fetch and retell stories of their own pets growing up.
For Wright, bringing Duncan to The Ivey has been a perfect fit. Her father had dementia for four years before his death. His dog, Oliver, made visits with Wright easier and more comfortable, despite his memory loss.
“Visiting with him was hard at first because it changed him so much,” she said. “Oliver, especially for me, ended up being an easy way to have conversation. I’d sit down with Dad in the den and I had to learn what questions to ask. Some things weren’t accessible, but to talk about Oliver was and it became a safe, easy conversation to have. It became comfortable.
“The only other place Duncan does therapy besides The Ivey is our immediate family,” Wright said.
LeClair said members light up when they see Wright and Duncan walk through the door.
“It’s so exciting for them to see Duncan and Joan,” LeClair said. “They all share such a special connection. It’s fun to hear members relive their experiences with dogs. Duncan brings that out.”
Linda, a member at The Ivey, said it’s because dogs are so special. Growing up, she and her family had several dogs that were “members of the family.”
Wright and Duncan plan to continue their visits at The Ivey. Its members, Linda attested to, are certainly grateful.
The Ivey is a 501c3 nonprofit located at 6030 Park South Drive in SouthPark. The Ivey is open Monday to Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Visit www.theivey.com or call 704-909-2070 for more information.