An advocate for seniors with memory loss.

Enhancing the quality of life of seniors with dementia is a vital part of the memory care program at all Elder Care Alliance communities.

George Buquich strives to fulfill this mission at AlmaVia of San Rafael. As the life enrichment coordinator, he has a passion for helping people thrive no matter the level of their cognitive challenges.

Each day Buquich greets residents with a smile and guides them as they complete meaningful activities. From arts and crafts to sing-alongs, he focuses on each senior’s strengths to encourage participation. “There’s always parallel activities and another side activity depending on the level of dementia,” says Buquich.

Buquich always takes the time to provide one-on-one interactions with the memory care residents. He often gives personalized attention to one resident that he sometimes finds sitting alone. He starts by noting the time of day with a simple phrase, such as “Let’s go have breakfast.” Afterwards, he asks her a few questions to elicit responses, an approach called threading. For example, he knows she does well with trivia-based activities and uses this to help her open up to him and other residents.

This type of engagement works well during individual interactions, but he uses other methods while working with groups. In that case, Buquich may lead a discussion group activity, where he’ll take an everyday word from the dictionary like “chicken,” print it on a notecard and prompt the participants to read it aloud. Buquich will repeat the word, using a technique called echoing that helps seniors with dementia retain information. Then he’ll ask questions about the term, such as, “Do you like to eat chicken?” to increase engagement and stimulate the residents’ memory.

In the past, Buquich worked with children with autism and students with Down syndrome. He joined AlmaVia of San Rafael in August 2014. Buquich says he appreciates the level of collaboration among departments at the community. “There’s a wonderful communication system here between caregivers, chaplains and nurses,” he says. “It’s a big building, so there has to be a good communication system.”

“[He’s] very enthusiastic and engages well with all residents,” says Joseph Sarto, Executive Director of AlmaVia of San Rafael. “He’s taken the I’m Still HereTM approach.”

Elder Care Alliance was the first senior living organization on the West Coast to adopt the I’m Still Here philosophy. Today, all Elder Care Alliance memory care programs use the approach, which is designed to increase quality of life by focusing on and embracing the unique strengths of those with dementia. The program was founded by the Hearthstone Institute and uses specialized learning techniques and cultural activities to engage seniors. By tailoring the approach to each individual, I’m Still Here has increased residents’ self-esteem and sense of independence.

Buquich participates in ongoing training sessions led by the Hearthstone Institute. The topics include comprehensive lessons on dementia, dining experiences, communication techniques, guidelines for creating activity programs and tools for managing challenging behaviors.

“It think it’s a wonderful program,” says Buquich. “It helps [the residents] feel comfortable, so you can be a great companion and a good friend to them.