By Duane Plank. Originally published in El Segundo Herald – pg 2 and 9

Speak with some of certified dementia practitioner and elder-care specialist Lauren Mahakian’s clients, and view some of the testimonials on her website, and a common theme emerges. Her clients consider her to be a godsend for her and her team’s compassionate, effective, caring treatment of their aging relatives as they fight the battles of dementia, many of who have Alzheimer’s disease.

One of her clients calls Mahakian “an angel from Heaven” for her stellar work to aid and comfort elderly patients and provide their families with support and peace-of-mind. Dementia is defined as a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s, a specific disease, is the most common cause of dementia.

Ron Kraft, whose wife has advanced Alzheimer’s, and has resided in one of Mahakian’s care facilities for the past two years, said, “she is remarkable. She knows how to handle dementia and Alzheimer’s better than anyone that I have met, and that includes doctors.” Kraft said Mahakian is sensitive to the needs of each client, which he said, “are all different, with different moods at different times.” Kraft said his wife has had Alzheimer’s for 15 years” and has never been more satisfied with her situation since Mahakian took over her care. “(Mahakian) is just a loving person.”

Mary Shimko, who has retained Mahakian to be her mother’s care-manager, said, “Lauren has been instrumental in helping me get the resources needed to help (her mother) out. She has been wonderful,” citing Mahakian as “extremely knowledgeable, and very available to her clients and families.”

Mahakian decided to open her residential care facility after visiting existing facilities and judging them as “not right.” She noted that some residential care facilities seemed to be more about opulent appearance than serving the needs of the elderly. She said when choosing a residential care facility, clients should “not be blinded by the chandeliers. …those chandeliers are not going to take care of your loved one.” She vowed to start her own facility and was successful in that venture in 2017, with Family Connect Memory Care in Torrance. At the time, Mahakian vowed to establish a residential home for the aging “that no one can come close to.”

Debbie Pifer trusted Mahakian to care manage her elderly in-laws, as well as a special needs brother-in-law. Pifer calls Mahakian “the angel from Heaven, an incredible woman.” Pifer said she was introduced to Mahakian in 2015 when looking for caregiving options. Pifer and husband Paul soon began working with Mahakian. Said Debbie: “Lauren is kind, compassionate, (with) extreme knowledge about elder care and vitality. Lauren today remains a close personal family friend, someone who came into our lives when we needed her most. We refer to her as our treasure beyond measure.”

Myra Katsura, who has known Lauren since 2017, said she was looking to get in-home assistance for her aging parents. She tried to convince her independent parents that they could benefit from in-home care, noting she had to take the car keys away from her elderly father. After her father had kidney failure, he was transferred to a skilled nursing facility, which, she said, is “pretty much the most awful place that I could imagine putting anybody in.” She contacted Mahakian, who went to work to “bring my Dad home.” Katsura said Mahakian and her staff made all the arrangements to return her father to his home, which “was the best thing in the world for him.” She said that when her father died, Mahakian’s team was present to do whatever they could. “I don’t know what I would have done without Lauren and her crew,” she said, noting how Mahakian’s crew are still tending to her mother’s care needs. “She is a real-life angel, with such a big heart.”

Marilyn Garcia, who attends weekly Mahakian-arranged support groups, and moved her husband into a care home this March, said, “I have known Lauren for a year-and-a-half: and my husband has Alzheimer’s disease. Lauren is responsive to concerns any of us have. We are part of her extended family. She is truly knowledgeable about memory loss issues and that how (those issues) affect the whole family. I do not worry about my husbands’ care; I know that he is getting the best care. He likes where he is, is well taken care of; all of the employees are very caring and very conscientious.”

Mahakian grew-up in Palos Verdes and graduated with a degree in Public Administration from the University of La Verne. In 2006, she interned with her older sister, renowned gerontologist Dr. Jane Mahakian, and began a journey in the field of “aging” that has led her to establish three separate care facilities, with a Westchester facility on the drawing board, set to open in 2022.

She started her business in 2008, a one person endeavor, added a couple of employees, and now manages nearly 50 staffers tasked with providing stellar caregiving services to older South Bayans. Her companies boast uniquely trained staff to meet the sometimes overwhelming needs of those with anywhere from moderate to severe cognitive impairment.

She also partners with local hospitals, as well as working with the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She offers unique services to those who have dementia, including a “Music and Memory” and “Stimuli” program. She was recognized as a South Bay HERO by Clear Recovery Center and Good Stuff Restaurants, selected from a worthy field Lauren Mahakian from page 2 of nominees, a fete she said that was “really cool, very moving.”

Her initial successful foray into the field of geriatric care allowed her to start Family Connect Memory Care in 2017, then Family Connect Boutique Care the following year, and then South Bay Memory Care in 2019, all licensed residential care facilities for the elderly and located in Torrance.

She said her facilities’ goal is to “restore the dignity and respect for residents afflicted with dementia,” while noting all of her businesses are continuing to do well, even with who have dementia of COVID-19 that afflicts the elderly at alarming rates.

 If managing three dementia care homes is not enough of a challenge, Mahakian also continues to succeed with her care management and in-home care businesses. In this pandemic era, she is available to clients and staff 24-7, setting-up virtual meetings, supporting care providers and facility staff, and visiting clients outside their home, all while maintaining required social-distancing protocols.

She also holds weekly caregiver support groups in Ranch Palos Verdes, as well as support groups in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. In her “spare” time, Mahakian launched a podcast last year, “Unlocking the Doors of Dementia with Lauren,” and earlier this year began penning a monthly column for the Palos Verdes Peninsula News under the title “The Alzheimer’s Whisperer.”

She espouses the mantra of helping families assure premium care for their loved ones by navigating the complexities of care management and housing so they can live their life to its fullest.

Some of you readers may remember a TV show that had a successful run on CBS back in the day, culminating a nine-year-run in 2003. Starred Roma Downey and was christened “Touched by an Angel.”  One of the episodes focused on one of the recurring characters, Tess, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and had to take up residency in a nursing home.

Well, that show may be out there somewhere in the loop of repeats available for viewing today, but, for the clients and families of Lauren Mahakian, they are still being…” touched by an angel.” •

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