Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, breaks ground on the new AlzheimerFull size photo

Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, center,along with Geriatric Center director Bob Ecroyd (third from right), residents of the center, and representatives of Martell Construction Co.

Contact: Julie Willmot
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Garden will allow Alzheimer's patients to enjoy outdoors in secure environment

TRENTON, N.J. -Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes today broke ground at the site of a new outdoor Alzheimer's area at the Mercer County Geriatric Center that will allow residents to enjoy the outdoors in a safe, enclosed environment.

Hughes was joined by residents of the center, volunteers, and representatives of Martell Construction Co., the contractor selected to construct the large garden complete with a glass-enclosed atrium on the south side of the geriatric center on Hamilton Avenue in Hamilton.

The new area will feature paths and benches surrounded by flowers, birdbaths and foliage, and will allow residents at the facility who suffer from Alzheimer's disease to experience the sights and sounds of the outdoors while remaining in the security of the geriatric center.

"We want to make sure the people here with Alzheimer's disease have a place to go outside, to have a picnic, and to enjoy the outdoors but without their families having to worry about their loved one getting lost outside," said Hughes. "We provide some of the very best care here, and this new amenity is another example of the quality of life we strive to provide our residents."

Construction of the unit is expected to take 12 weeks and will cost $487,946 in County funds. The unit will also include extensive security features to ensure the Alzheimer's patients are safe while enjoying the garden and sunlit atrium. An eight-foot privacy barrier and a state-of-the-art lock system will surround the enclosure.

Hughes said the cost and amenities of the new unit are necessary considering the dangers of Alzheimer's disease. Many patients are prone to becoming disoriented, wandering, and possibly getting lost, endangering their lives because they are often unable to care for themselves.

Mercer County experienced a tragedy in June when Gordon Hector, an 81-year-old Hamilton man who had Alzheimer's disease, became disoriented and went missing. Despite a massive search effort by 10 area police departments and by Hector's family, Gordon Hector died before rescuers could locate him.

Within days of Hector's disappearance, an elderly Ewing man who has Alzheimer's disease also got lost when he drove his car to New York City. That resident was unharmed.

In light of those incidents, Hughes and Mercer County Sheriff Kevin Larkin publicized Project Lifesaver, an existing County program that outfits eligible residents with tracking bracelets. Through Project Lifesaver, residents who are prone to wandering because of diseases like Alzheimer's are given the watch-like bracelets and can be tracked with a radio signal in the event they become lost. So far, every person under Project Lifesaver who went missing was found within minutes.

Hughes said with statistics by the national Alzheimer's Association showing the disease is growing more prevalent each year, it is imperative to improve the quality of life and the safety of Alzheimer's residents in the County's care.

The outdoor area, which is directly connected to the geriatric center's 60-bed Alzheimer's unit, will be also be a setting for inclusive therapy and socialization therapy services.