Green House Blog

Home Is More Than a Place to Live | A Caregiver’s Story

Susan could no longer deny she had a problem when her mother started to call her at 2:00 in the morning, asking her when she was coming to see her.

Her mother, Molly, is a vibrant, outgoing woman who raised three children and worked as a legal secretary, fully enjoying the job. She loves her family and being with people. Molly also has an impressive command of trivia questions.

Of the siblings, Susan lived nearest to her parents, and so she saw them the most often. Several years ago, she noticed that her mother seemed unfocused. Short, routine errands to nearby stores took hours. But her dad assured her that all was well.

Then Susan’s dad passed away, and Molly lived alone.

Susan assumed more responsibility for helping her mother, a role she termed as “Boss of the Bills and the Pills”. She continued to worry that her mother was “off” and she shared her concerns with her siblings, a difficult and emotional task. They were not convinced that Molly’s problems warranted taking her out of the home that she loved.

Susan increasingly worried about her mother’s confusion about time and space. She started getting calls from her mother in the middle of the night, asking her when she would come to visit. Neighbors called her to report that Molly was having difficulty driving. As Susan reports it, “I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach 24 hours a day.” The final straw was when Molly fell in her home and ended up in the hospital.

After the fall, the family moved Molly to an assisted living residence. Molly seemed to adjust to her new living situation, but Susan saw that her mother had lost the sparkle in her eyes. For a woman who was always busy and with friends, Molly now did not have much to do. She spent a lot of time alone in her room.

The staff at the assisted living residence reported that Molly wandered and had great difficulty finding her apartment. She left her stove on so frequently that the residence disabled it. Then Molly fell in her unit, fracturing her neck and nose. Molly did not use her emergency wrist pendant, so an aide found her long after the fact.

Molly was treated in a hospital, transferred to a rehab facility, and then she went back to her assisted living unit. Given her mental confusion, the residence required the family to hire 24 -hour care, at $600 per day. The family quickly decided they needed another solution.

Susan looked at memory care units near her home in Needham. When she walked into White Oak Cottages, she was surprised that it felt like a real home. Residents were coming and going through the living room, the smell of fresh laundry came from the dryer, and the staff was preparing dinner in the kitchen. Susan knew how much her mother wanted to be around other people, and she thought, “This is perfect!”

In September 2012 Molly moved into White Oak Cottages. Daily life is now much closer to what it was like when she was living in her family home. She has her own room to decorate and she can watch her television whenever she wants. Her children visit her, some having dinner with her, others watching movies with her in her room. They all appreciate the ability to focus on Molly, rather than on her care.

When Molly’s family is not visiting, she likes being in the action in the living room and playing word games. Molly is the recognized champ of the trivia contests. And she has made new friends. Susan enjoys the way the residents care for each other. “The residents ….are like family. They look out for each other.”

Since Molly has moved to White Oak, her medical condition has stabilized. According to Susan, “the spark is back in her eye”. Her favorite day is Saturday, when families visit with children and dogs. Susan says that the high level of activity is just what her mother needs. “She is thriving. I have nothing but positive things to say about White Oak. For me, it is peace of mind. When you walk out of White Oak and feel that all is well for your mother, it is worth everything.”

To learn more about White Oaks Cottages, of Fox Hill Villages in Westwood, MA, visit:


May marks 10 years Since The First Green House Homes Opened Their Doors

It has been 10 years since Mississippi Methodist Senior Services in Tupelo, MS opened the first Green House project in the country. Throughout May, The Green House Project will celebrate this pioneering organization, and the revolution that they sparked. On Sunday, May 5, there was a block party to celebrate this milestone, with Green House team members and Dr. Bill Thomas in attendance. Check out the photos here and Follow us on twitter at #Tupelo10.  

Steve McAlilly, the visionary leader who believed in The Green House model and brought it to his organization tells a story about its impact:

There was a retired methodist preacher who had Alzheimer’s. He lived in our Alzheimer’s unit in the old ward. He had an eight-year-old grandson who refused to come see him in that environment. His parents couldn’t get him to go see his grandaddy. His disease was so advanced he wasn’t awake but 4 hours a day. But he was one of the first people in the world to move into green house. People would ask what is he going to get out of it? He’s barely awake, has to be fed. But we believed that bringing him to the hearth, to the supper table, something would get through and it would make a difference.

So every day the Shahbazim would get him dressed and bring him to the table. Before too long he was awake again, and his grandson would come back to see him. He came to see his grandaddy so much he knew the name of every elder and every Shahbaz in the house. If that’s the only thing we did we can say it’s worth it. Whatever sweat and tears we had it was worth it.

Maria Shriver's Blog Depicts a Sense of Peace for One Family

Maria Shriver is a national voice for Alzheimer’s Disease.  Through her blog, she is able to reach people around the world to give this disease a human face.  Recently a blog about The Green House model, shared how the small environment and deep-knowing relationships, helped to create a meaningful life for one family:

For the last six months, from the day [Joan] moved in [to White Oaks Cottages] on July 4th, Joan has gotten a letter from her kids. Each letter starts out, “Please print and three whole punch for Joan Hogan” followed by “Today is…”

The letters were signed at the end but Joan kept asking, “but who is writing these?” so a third line was added, “This letter is from your daughter, Kathleen.”

Then, in three to four paragraphs, Kathy and her siblings would write what was going on with the family. “We realized we could have sent her the same letter every day, but because we shared it with our extended family, we enjoyed keeping it up to date.”

Joan holds each day’s letter in her hand all day; the news fresh every time she reads it. She shares it with her friends and even reads the letter to Kathy when she calls. It gives them something to talk about.

“What she’s saying is accurate and interesting, it removes some of the frustration.” Kathy jokes, “I wouldn’t need to speak to siblings for a week because she would fill me in on everything!”

For five to six months, Joan was able to put the letters in order in the binder. She can no longer do that, so a bit of organization and assistance is required when they visit.

Kathy says having her mother at a Green House home has been a great change and a big relief.

Green House homes around the country provide a sense of peace to family members, that their loved ones are being treated with value and as an individual regardless of their cognitive or physical abilities.  To read the entire blog and more on Maria Shriver’s site, click here

AARP Texas urges state officials to ease financial restraints and urge developers to build more Green House homes

Sagecrest Alzheimer's Care Center in San Angelo, Texas

via Texas AARP

“The state supports a culture change” in institutional care that would allow more Green house homes in Texas, says Chris Traylor, commissioner of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services.

Elders and family members are extremely pleased with the care offered at the Sagecrest Alzheimer’s Care Center in San Angelo, Texas, a Green House home project.  Many wish there were more homes being built, but money is the issue.  Texas Medicaid reimbursement is among the lowest in the country, and two-thirds of Texas elders in nursing homes get help from Medicaid.  AARP Texas advocacy manager, Amanda Fredriksen, says those rates largely determine “what Texas nursing homes look like.”

Read more about a Medicaid reimbursement rate that would encourage more Green House homes in Texas…and then tell us what YOU think!