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Homes for Alzheimer's patients are hard to find

There are several assisted living facilities equipped to handle Alzheimer's patients in North Tampa and the county, but few exist in South Tampa.

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002

MID PENINSULA -- When Luci Norlin's mother, Jean, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at age 66, her family sought a home that would keep her through each stage of the disease.

They found one on Platt Street.

Norlin liked it so much she ultimately bought it.

"I knew I had to have a place where my mom would get the best care," says Norlin, 38.

Now her 12-bed center is full, and there's a waiting list to get in. Residents all have memory disorders; eight are diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Little -- short of buying a health care facility -- guarantees finding space for advanced Alzheimer's patients in South Tampa. Although assisted living facilities are growing in number, few accept severe Alzheimer's cases.

"I think there's a need for good qualified care," Norlin says. "It was difficult to find a place for my mom that could care for her through her entire illness."

Most assisted living facilities only care for those in the early stages of the disease. As Alzheimer's progresses, patients wander and need a secured setting with locked doors. They may become frustrated, confused and even violent. Many live with the disease for years.

There are assisted living facilities in Carrollwood, North Tampa and Sun City Center equipped to handle Alzheimer's patients but few exist in South Tampa.

More common are skilled nursing units -- known generically as nursing homes -- designed for those in later stages of the disease.

"Many people can function in an assisted living environment for a long time, but as they progress they often need more intensive care," said Terri Cecchini, admissions coordinator for Mariner Health of Tampa on Gandy Boulevard.

Mariner's secured facility offers full-time nursing care. Physicians often recommend placement in such facilities. Residents may need feeding tubes or intravenous medications.

The 117-bed facility is decorated in soft colors. A full-time activities director keeps residents busy with art classes and parties. Physical and occupational therapy keeps residents moving with activities such as gardening.

Those in the middle stages of the disease often fall through the cracks, Norlin says.

"They may not fit in at an assisted living facility but not need full-time nursing care," she says.

In that gray area, she finds her niche.

Her home is the original At Home With Friends. She bought it from Bud and Nena Fultz in 1999. By then, the Fultzes had opened a new At Home With Friends on Bay to Bay Boulevard.

Before purchasing the facility, Norlin had no experience running an assisted living facility.

As required by the state, she took classes in first aid, CPR and nutritional training. She was certified to care for Alzheimer's patients.

"It's been the most rewarding and fulfilling transition I could have made," she says. "It's because of the people. I can really empathize with the residents and their families."

Norlin, her father Charles, 80, and her sisters inspected several other facilities before moving her mother into At Home With Friends.

"We noticed lots of staff turnover at larger facilities and didn't like institutional settings," Norlin says.

Under her direction, the home now specializes in Alzheimer's patients.

When residents reach the end stages of the disease, Norlin welcomes Hospice so patients don't have to leave the setting.

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