Garden House celebrates 10th anniversary

Life’s lessons are rarely scheduled. Gari Cave of Morro Bay didn’t plan a life of serving families touched by Alzheimer’s until her mother-in-law was discovered wandering the streets of Bakersfield at 3 a.m.

Back in 1983, dementia was a common diagnosis; Alzheimer’s research was negligible. After extensive study, Cave founded the Kern County Alzheimer’s Association.

After moving to Morro Bay, she was the county ombudsman for six years until she and partner Ann Keyes created a nonmedical care center for Alzheimer’s wanderers needing 24-hour secured care.

Both women invested 21⁄2 years and refinanced their homes three times to open Garden House at 480 Main St. in Morro Bay in 2000.

Although Cave still mourns Keyes’ untimely fatal automobile accident, Garden House will celebrate its 10th anniversary from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday. Cave invites all to come by. On display will be several original paintings created by the residents.

Kasey Watson of Art Without Boundaries notes the program effects dramatic changes in verbal skills and mobility and produces beautiful art. As a fundraiser for the nonprofit care center, a 2011 calendar was created with their art.

“After 10 years, things need to be replaced, like the carpet,” Cave said.

However, she intends for the funds from sales of the first calendar to go toward a Wii video game system.

“I think the exercise will be good for them — playing virtual tennis, golf and bowling,” she said.

A tour of Garden House demonstrates the homelike atmosphere Cave and Keyes created for its 15 residents. Each doorway features a picture of the residents as they looked the day they came to Garden House. Another pictures how they remember they looked.

Residents are encouraged to bring cherished items from home. A quilt designed and donated by Mary D. Bell, owner of Dimensions in San Luis Obispo, dresses each bed. Two cuddly dogs seek residents’ attention. The large living room has comfortable couches and recliner chairs to view movies and television. Cal Poly food-service student interns help in the kitchen and two dining rooms.

Cave or her assistant administrator, Pam Shears, is always on-site, along with three or four aides. One dining room has a large skylight that allows residents to enjoy starry nights.

“We’ve had many fun times and a few sad times,” Cave said. “One man created the B-1 Bomber — another is a Kodak family heir. Our ‘escape artist’ surprised us, and our lady who loved the gentlemen was amusing.”