Friendship Village Takes Innovative Approach to Dementia Care

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Bloomington senior living community implements “Best Friends” program.

It’s remarkable how much better we’re able to relate to a person with dementia by knowing the story of their past and what they’ve experienced and value in life.

Friendship Village of Bloomington has adopted “The Best Friends™ Approach” to dementia care in its Health Center. The senior living community is now a certified “Best Friends Environment,” and is training additional staff on the person-centered program to improve quality of life for residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The Best Friends philosophy suggests that what a person with dementia needs most of all is a friend, a best friend. Care partners are trained to learn personal details about the life story of an individual so they can empathize with their situation and help them feel safe, secure and valued. The program also emphasizes socialization and creating sensory-stimulating activities catered to individuals. Developed by dementia care experts David Troxel and Virginia Bell, The Best Friends Approach has gathered national and international support for its success, from Alzheimer’s Association chapters to state-level agencies.

“It’s remarkable how much better we’re able to relate to a person with dementia by knowing the story of their past and what they’ve experienced and value in life,” says Lindsey Vajpeyi, assistant director of wellness programs at Friendship Village. “We have to be the biographers for those who don’t remember their own story. We’re able to empathize and interact with them on a more personal level, and I see their faces light up.”

Vajpeyi is one of four staff members at Friendship Village of Bloomington now certified as a Best Friends master trainer. Other staff includes licensed social worker Tracy Plonsky, director of admissions and social services Joseph Amend-Marshall, and memory care nurse coordinator Misty Corey. Additional training for Friendship Village staff is scheduled in the coming weeks. Some of the training components include role playing, small group discussion, peer-to-peer teaching and interactive exercises.

“This goes above and beyond standard requirements for dementia training, and we want all our health care staff on all levels trained in this program,” says Ron Donacik, health administrator at
Friendship Village of Bloomington. “The Best Friends program is all about supporting our memory care residents and helping them live in the moment. And that starts with learning about and understanding each resident to develop that essential friendship.”

Vajpeyi and the staff are collecting information about each memory care resident by contacting spouses, family and friends to give the community the ten most important things about the resident. These can range from previous routines to favorite foods to life accomplishments. While the program is being implemented in steps at the community, its benefits are already being seen.

“There is a woman who gets very anxious when she goes to an unfamiliar environment, and we had plans to take our memory care residents on a day trip to a local park,” Vajpeyi says. “As we boarded the bus to the park, I talked with her about special things in her life, like her wonderful singing voice and how she used to fly airplanes. She was smiling from ear to ear during the entire outing, and it was heartwarming to see the impact the Best Friends approach had on her comfort level and self esteem.”

Over five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and that number is projected to nearly triple by 2050, according to the Minnesota Alzheimer’s Association. The cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s is also increasing; it is currently estimated to total $203 billion in 2013.

About Friendship Village of Bloomington
Friendship Village, located at 8100 Highwood Drive in Bloomington, provides seniors with a unique lifestyle experience and a variety of residential options, including maintenance-free independent living apartments and townhomes. As a Life Care community, residents also have unlimited access to on-site health care services, as well as assisted living, memory support and skilled nursing, if ever needed. Friendship Village is owned and operated by Lifespace Communities, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that has grown to operate 12 continuing care retirement communities in seven states. Additional information about Friendship Village of Bloomington is available by calling (952) 831-7500 or by visiting

About Lifespace Communities
Friendship Village is owned and operated by Lifespace Communities, Inc. Founded in 1976, Lifespace Communities, based in Des Moines, Iowa, is a not-for-profit corporation that has grown to operate 12 continuing care retirement communities in seven states, serving more than 5,000 residents and employing 2,500 team members. Communities are located in Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Illinois, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Florida. The organization is recognized by the LeadingAge Ziegler Top 100 as the seventh largest not-for-profit senior living provider system in the country. For more information about Lifespace and its communities, visit

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Taylor Johnson
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