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The Willows lights up in purple for Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS — Purple lights shine outside of The Willows of Marshalltown. The purple lights are in recognition of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, which goes throughout the month of November.

It’s been a difficult year for the elderly and for nursing homes as a whole with COVID-19 forcing many long-term care facilities to limit visitors and planned group gatherings. The Willows, an assisted living and memory care facility in Marshalltown, felt that same crunch when looking ahead to their Alzheimer’s Awareness Month plans for 2020.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Willows Executive Director Jennifer Stanley said she was planning on changing up their strategy for raising awareness of Alzheimer’s. A lot of places do Alzheimer’s walks, and Willows did too originally. But Stanley wanted to try something different.

Once the pandemic broke out and steadily increased, the idea of holding a party was out the window.

What they decided on was much different but still a powerful statement.

“The original idea was to have the community shine lights on their building,” Stanley said. “Just creating the awareness for all of us to make clear the importance of work we could to together to fight this disease.”

The Willows of Marshalltown has been lit up in purple throughout the month of November and will be for the rest of the month, as purple is the official color for Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. The purple lights have been placed all around the entrance and front areas of the complex, a process that Stanley said cost the Willows less than $30 total. Originally LED lights were looked at, but the costs were prohibitive with the large number of lights that would need to be replaced. She instead found a film that goes over the lights and changed the color of the output and creates the purple glow.

They had discussions with buildings and people who lived nearby, making clear their intentions with the lights through a letter. The goal is to raise as much awareness for the disease as possible by standing out.

The gentleness and kindness of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients sticks out to PR director Bob Daniels, who made sure to mention the great job the Willows staff has done since it opened and especially during the pandemic. Residents of The Willows have not been able to see guests as much, but the complex set up a limited number of visits in a designated area where residents could meet people and not risk exposure in their rooms.

“The interesting thing to me is, in so many cases, the sweetness and the friendliness of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Daniels said. “They don’t lose their ability to feel friendly and feel loved.”

The lights have gotten a good response on Facebook, where a post announcing the lights and showcasing them has 200-300 likes, Stanley said. She added that in one case a commenter said they drive by the lights each day, thanking them for raising awareness.

It’s a sign of recognition and awareness for a problem big in Marshalltown and in the country as a whole. The Willows has 24 beds, and all of them are full — with people still on a waiting list in the event someone dies or leaves the facility. There are three such care facilities in Marshalltown and Stanley said there needs to be as much attention on helping those with dementia and Alzheimer’s as possible.

“There’s so much more to be done to find a cure,” Stanley said. “Our idea is that someone will see the idea, like the idea, embrace the idea and do that for their building next year.”

It may be a small step, but The Willows is making sure it is seen (and heard) loud and clear.

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