LEWISTON — Bathroom doors in each bedroom open in both directions, pushing in or pulling out, so there’s no panicking about getting stuck. There’s a resident kitchen with cupboards to poke around in and countertops to wipe down, or not. A shared living room has couches and a baby grand piano.

“You’ll have someone that almost has complete memory loss, they can (still) remember music,” said Matthew Walters. “That’s one of the things we’ve found doesn’t escape most people. If you can play piano, you can play piano.”

Walters is chief operating officer at Woodlands Memory Care of Lewiston, the new $6.5 million, 64-bed facility that opened in October in the Fairgrounds Business Park.

Weeks ahead of schedule, almost half of the beds are full. The other half — in a second wing that’s identical down to the artwork — are due to open next month.

The company had been eyeing Lewiston-Auburn for more than four years. The project took less than a year between purchasing the land and opening, and the reception’s been warm.

“There’s been more feedback and positive energy here than any of the openings I’ve been involved with,” Walters said. “The Lewiston-Auburn community has just been really positive. It’s been great.”

Parent company Woodlands Senior Living, headquartered in Waterville, was founded by Walters’ father, Lon, in 1980. Six of its 11 Maine facilities specialize in memory care, providing housing and care to residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The building was designed, through years of research, with that population in mind, Matthew Walters said.

Hallways are laid out in a circular pattern “so there’s no dead ends. Someone gets to the end of a hallway, ‘What am I doing down here?’ If they walk or wander they can find their way back,” he said.

Common areas are designed with a nook feel. The library and living room are separated by beams and half-walls that allow staff to easily see everyone while letting residents feel like they’re in home-like separate spaces, which is more comfortable and less overwhelming, Walters said.

This building is the company’s first with specialized LED lighting that can brighten, dim and change color throughout the day to lessen issues that can arise in the evening, he said.

The facility is designed in two identical wings or “neighborhoods” with 32 beds each, with the kitchen, laundry and nursing station in between. Just over half of the beds, 36, are for MaineCare patients. The cost for private-pay residents is $225 a day. Long-term care insurance can cover some of that but most residents, ages 70 and up, use savings or pensions, he said.

“Those MaineCare beds get full like that; there’s not many opportunities” for those residents, Walters said. “Once we open the second phase, they’ll be full within the first two or three days.”

The facility has more women than men. There’s also one married couple. Some had lived in retirement communities that didn’t specialize in memory care, Walters said. Most are coming from home.

“It’s generally people that aren’t safe to live alone, or people that even if they’re living with family or receiving in-home care, they’re not receiving the amount of stimulation they need to make them happy,” Walters said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people wait to make a decision until there’s a crisis situation: ‘She walked to her neighbor’s house to have tea and couldn’t find her way home.’ Oftentimes it’s a safety concern that’s the last straw.”

Since there’s no timeline on the progression of dementia, some residents have stayed at their other locations for as many as eight years.

Walters said they’ve set up partnerships with occupational and physical therapists, a hairdresser, memory care specialists and hospice so those providers can come in to the facility to care for residents.

“We’ve had a number of people call for themselves,” Walters said. “(They say,) ‘I know I’ve just been diagnosed with this, I know this is something I’m going to need, I want to know what’s available before it’s too late.'”

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