A Q&A With Rita Altman, VP, Memory Care & Programming

Sunrise Senior Living  |  October 17, 2014

Meet Rita Altman, Sunrise’s vice president of Memory Care & Programming! Rita plays an integral role in our company's unique, industry-leading Memory Care Program. As one of seven Validation Masters worldwide and with more than 30 years of nursing and senior care experience, Rita brings not only her passion for Alzheimer’s awareness, but also research-based guidance for a holistic approach to memory care.

Q: What is your favorite part about working with seniors?

A: When it comes to working with seniors, there are so many things that I enjoy that it’s difficult to name a favorite one.  However, if I had to choose one in particular, I would say that I truly enjoy learning about how residents have found meaning through their work, family and faith. It’s a privilege to listen to them as they share their accomplishments, as well as their hardships.

I continue to learn about the importance of humanity and dignity from residents with advancing memory loss. Despite memory loss, residents have a remarkable way of showing kindness to others. Through their smiling eyes, tender hand shake, tug or touch, they help me to realize just how important is it is to welcome, accept and make others feel comfortable and cared about.

Q: What’s the greatest lesson you have learned (or words of wisdom) from working with seniors?

A: The greatest lesson I have learned from seniors is to be resilient. Every senior has lived through and adapted to many losses throughout the aging process. The majority of them have a remarkable way of bouncing back because they have found a way to cope or have discovered some source of strength. From seniors with memory loss, I am still learning how to be more “in the moment.” They have shown me how important it is to freely express oneself in an open and honest way and most importantly, to appreciate all that each moment holds.

Q: What’s one aspect of Sunrise you are most proud of?

A: I am most proud of our team members who provide care and love to our residents, especially during challenging times. I am most proud when I see a care manager holding the hand of a resident with memory loss, or singing a song with them, or helping them to be all they can be… successful, loved and accepted.  I am very grateful to Sunrise’s team members for their great dedication to the residents they serve.

I also respect and appreciate the way that team members from sister communities support each other. We often see this during enjoyable occasions, such as community events like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, where they champion a cause and work to raise funds to help to eradicate Alzheimer’s.

However, the thing that is most humbling as well as most amazing to me is the way that Sunrise team members join together to support each other during the really tough times. This happens when a resident is in the final stage of life and care managers take turns keeping vigil at the bedside or when hurricanes, blizzards or floods occur and the dedicated team members work so tirelessly to ensure our residents are safe and comfortable.

Q: What makes Sunrise unique in the senior care industry?

A: Sunrise’s Principles of Service set us apart from all the others in the senior care industry. In addition, the great training that team members receive through Sunrise University sets us apart from others. We’re also unique because of our Reminiscence program and its emphasis on life enrichment and the use of Validation ® as a valuable communication technique.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working for Sunrise?

A: I enjoy knowing that we are one big team, whether we work at the CSO or in the field, with the common goal of championing quality of life for all seniors.

Q: How would you describe the Sunrise team? Describe Sunrise in five words or less.

A: Hardworking, creative, flexible, dedicated, inspiring!

Q: What was your first job?

A: My first job was as a babysitter at the age of about 14. It was my responsibility to watch a very precocious 5-year-old who enjoyed reading the encyclopedia and his 2-year-old sister who was blind. I learned a lot about caregiving, and I still can’t believe that their parents entrusted me with their two precious children.

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

A: I enjoy going to concerts, traveling and exploring new places with my husband and our extended family. I have fun anytime I’m with my friends and family, especially if it’s at the beach!  

Q: What’s your favorite book or movie?

A: I have two favorite books that relate to my work. The book that inspires me as a leader is, Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit, by Bolman and Deal. The other is Still Alice by Lisa Genova which tells the story of a young professor and loving mother and wife who journeys through life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. My favorite movie is Love Actually.