They take great pride in making sure customers are buying products that really meet their needs. “You know the scene in Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle sends shoppers to other stores if Macy’s doesn’t have exactly what they need? That’s how we operate,” Ellen says.
Sometimes that means not making a sale. That was the case when a person with symptoms of early stage dementia called The Alzheimer’s Store recently to order an inexpensive memory aid. After talking with the customer for 45 minutes, a staff member transferred the call to Ellen. Ellen spent 90 minutes talking with him, and Mark another hour. The Warners felt the customer’s memory loss was serious, and that he was endangering himself and others. Instead of selling a memory aid, they encouraged the would-be customer to seek diagnosis and assistance, and were able to refer him to nearby resources.
As his interest grew, he started spending a lot of time in adult daycare and nursing home settings, looking at what might cause residents or clients to become agitated. He attended support groups to listen to caregiver problems, and rode as a citizen observer with a fire and rescue unit. Over and over, he saw problems and injuries that could have been prevented by better design.
To address these design issues, the Warners started a company called Ageless Design, providing resources and consulting for professionals. Mark also started work on a book to advise family caregivers on the same issues; the third edition of The Complete Guide to Alzheimer’s-Proofing Your Home is due out soon. [He also authored In Search of the Alzheimer’s Wanderer, a workbook for family and professional caregivers concerned about wandering.]
Although Mark included a products and services directory in the back of his book, people started calling the Warners asking for help finding products. As the volume of calls increased, the couple mulled over how best to meet this need. In 2001, they started the Alzheimer’s Store to help families, professional caregivers and people with memory loss find products to assist with activities of daily living.
One of their goals is to make it easier for people with dementia and other conditions to stay in their homes. With skilled nursing averaging over $5000 per month, Mark says, a product that can help reduce the risk of falling or prevent a medication overdose is a good value. Their products are not always covered by insurance, so they try to keep their prices low.
With his specialized design expertise, Mark handles the buying side of the business. “Three or four times per week, we receive information on new products,” he says. “Sometimes they’re appropriate, sometimes not.” Often, caregivers and professionals will alert him to a product that met their needs. He looks carefully at each product to make sure it addresses the challenges that people with dementia and their caregivers encounter. Often, says Mark, “the technology is good, but they haven’t done their homework in terms of dementia.”
The level of detail behind each product decision would overwhelm most people. Not Mark, though, if his enthusiasm about the grab bar in their catalog is any indication. “During one of my nursing home visits, I watched the staff try to get a resident to sit down in a chair,” he says. “With her memory problems, she simply didn’t remember there was a chair behind her. She became agitated, and refused to sit down. This got me wondering how to apply this knowledge to the home, and it became clear that you could use this concept in the bathroom. For a home-based caregiver, getting someone with dementia to sit on a toilet can be a problem. But I found a grab bar that folds out parallel to the wall, so it can be reached by someone sitting on a toilet. The caregiver can simply ask the person with dementia to hold onto the grab bar with both hands, and that positions him perfectly to allow him to control his descent to the toilet and lift himself back up when done. This transfers the load from the caregiver’s back to the grab bar, and allows for dignity and control. All that from a grab bar!”
The Warners also evaluate the level of customer service available for each product, as well as reliability. This might seem like a lot of scrutiny for a company to go through to have its product in their catalog, but “if we like the product, we sell a good number,” Ellen says.
The couple also works to keep up with national and international news on dementia research and care, and publishes summaries in the Alzheimer’s Daily News. Many news sites and newsletters are simply automated feeds, but the Warners personally select stories they think are relevant to their customers. As with everything they do, this effort is labor-intensive. Stealing a line from The Godfather, I can say “this is business, but the Warners are taking it very, very personal.”