Yesterday I met with Robin Ely, the owner of Mind Matters in Old Saybrook, Connecticut—a daycare for adults with dementia. I didn’t know what to expect when I first opened the door to Mind Matters, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself walking into a warm, living room setting complete with a fireplace and mantel. From across the room, Robin sat at a table surrounded by one of her employees, Britt, a couple board games, and several happy players. She excused herself from the game to welcome and embrace me with her infectiously bubbly demeanor.
Robin grew up in Salem, Connecticut and has been a registered nurse since 1993. She worked in a hospital for the first four years of her career and then moved into geriatric care for the last twenty years. For seven years, she held the esteemed position of Director of Nurses, earning respect from her peers and a comfortable salary, but she didn’t feel passionate about her work. She felt cut off from the people she most wanted to connect with the most: her patients. After watching her grandmother and two other close relatives become institutionalized for dementia, as well as personally going through the cold medical system for her own troubles with Crohn’s disease, Robin decided she wanted to make a difference. She decided to follow her heart, quit her job as Director of Nurses, and start her own business caring for adults with dementia in a loving, non-medical setting. And so, three years ago, Mind Matters of Old Saybrook was born.
Mind Matters is a client-focused, accommodating adult daycare center, modeled around the goals of socialization and physical activity. Robin wants her guests to feel at home. She encourages her staff to bring in framed pictures and personal touches to create a house-like atmosphere. She comes up with craft ideas and seasonal activities, including the annual decorating of the tree, for her clients to take part in. She does not enforce a set schedule of any kind. She instead tailors the day to each individual’s preferences and needs. Some clients have physical therapists who come in on a regular basis, while others play games, go for walks, or simply relax with a cup of tea and read. Robin’s goal in running this business is to help take the pressure off of her clients’ families and provide a loving place for those struggling with dementia. From personal experience, she knows how cold and uncaring institutions can be for people with dementia. She wants to be an affordable, known resource in the local community.
Recently, Robin opened up a second Mind Matters location in Groton, Connecticut. She hopes to continue spreading her compassion and support for people and families affected by dementia. Robin believes people deserve just as much, if not more, respect and attention at the end of their lives. She meets her clients exactly where they are, listening to their life stories, allowing them to make mistakes, using positive reinforcement, and creating an environment that is conducive to one that helps them feel safe, creative, and accomplished. There is no cure for dementia, but the brain and body does deteriorate faster without healthy stimulation, which is why Robin is constantly thinking up new, exciting ways to keep her clients socialized and engaged. Volunteers come in on a regular basis to play guitar, sing songs, read, play games, and offer exercise routines. She also encourages her staff to bring in and utilize any gifts they may have, including musical instruments and artistic abilities. As long as her clients aren’t sitting alone at home, stuck in front of a TV, Robin is happy. She wants the best quality of life for all people suffering with dementia.
When I asked Robin what keeps her motivated after a bad day, she smiled and said she doesn’t have bad days. She used to when she worked in a nursing home, but here in her own compassion-filled business, she feels nothing but gratitude every day. She is happy to be a part of each of her clients’ and their families’ lives. She is happy to be working from the heart instead of for the paycheck in an environment that puts the client first. She is grateful to be out of the cold, white walls of the medical world and instead within the warm, caring home of her own business where the mind genuinely matters.
220 Old Boston Post Rd, Suite 2
Old Saybrook, CT 06475