(Karen and Jerry Parks inside Parks' Place Memory Care in Plymouth)
It took Jerry Parks six years to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But his wife, Karen, faced a new reality right away.
It started with small lapses of memory in 2000. At the time, Jerry was 50.
“He would make a phone call from work and ask, ‘What field are the kids on?’ or ‘Who am I picking up on the way home from work today?’,” recalls Karen Parks. “And then he’d call a half hour later and say, ‘What field are they playing on?’”
Karen brushed it off.
She knew her husband had a lot going on. Jerry Parks was a VP at Mortenson Construction. But as time went on, Jerry’s symptoms became more worrying. He forgot how to deal cards when playing 500; he continued to ask about getting his daily newspaper even after Karen had mentioned, multiple times, that it was already purchased and ready for him.
That’s when Karen took Jerry in for testing. The prognosis? Come back in two years, said the specialist. Something wasn’t right, but they couldn’t put their finger on it. More time was needed to give a diagnosis.
“Come back in two years?” Karen recalled emphatically. “I said well I’m not coming back in two years. (Jerry’s) the sole breadwinner of a family of six. I have two going off to college shortly; I have to do something.”
Jerry eventually lost his job with Mortenson, along with a handful of others afterwards. All the while, Karen continued to be a full-time parent and eventually re-entered the workforce to make ends meet. She went back to school for a masters and taught at Hopkins Elementary School.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Jerry was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He was 56 years old. Less than 10% of Alzheimer’s patients experience symptoms before age 65, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Parks family knew that Jerry would eventually need full-time care. They also knew that they didn’t want him out of state and living without family. The solution? A facility that provided the comforts of home with the care dementia patients require.
The family found a plot of land in Plymouth and partnered with local architect Mohagan Hansen and builder Gordon James Construction to turn their dream into a reality. Along the way, the Parks joined forces with Cassia, formerly Augustana Care, to provide healthcare staff and services. Construction on Parks’ Place started in 2018; the facility opened in the fall of 2019.
“It’s everything we envisioned and more,” said Karen Parks of the facility.
The first thing visitors notice is the building’s high ceilings and natural light. A long and narrow marble table in the family kitchen stretches outward towards the sunroom at the back of the building. A comfy foyer flanks the main entrance.
Parks’ Place location was deliberate; it is situated near churches and schools to make it easier for family members to visit. Right now, Parks’ Place has 17 residents, with the capacity for 30.
Karen Parks said residents’ children, grandchildren, spouses and other relatives visit often.
“Families tell us that there is a warmth they feel (at Parks’ Place),” she said. “Little grandchildren, college-aged grandchildren are here with their grandma and grandpas, which is so cool. They’ll be here all day long. That doesn’t happen at other places; people go in, visit and try to get out.”
Karen Parks suggests that people who have just received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis seek out support groups. She also emphasizes the fact that those suffering from the diseases need to be recognized for who they are and were, notwithstanding their disability.
“Engage (Alzheimer’s patients) in conversation; don’t ignore them. Bring them into the conversation,” said Karen Parks. “I think a huge piece is learning to understand that these individuals were contributing members of society. A disease is taking their abilities away, but they still need to be respected for the person they are and not disregarded.”