Back to the Garden
By Soledad O'Brien with Samuel Steinberger
To honor his father, philanthropist Michael Shmerling has created an Alzheimer’s care center in Nashville that is changing the way Americans handle a growing tragedy.
Abe’s Garden isn’t your typical Alzheimer’s care facility. There is sunlight everywhere. It has a quarter-acre organic garden, a courtyard with an outdoor grill and 50,000 bees producing 20 gallons of honey every year. Residents have their pick of regular activities such as seated yoga, karaoke and flower arranging, and they benefit from a steady stream of visitors, like the Nashville-area Boy Scout troop that recently dropped by to serve cookies around the facility’s outdoor fireplace. For founder Michael Shmerling, a scene like that is the fulfillment of a dream: Abe’s Garden is a heartwarming tribute to his father, Abram “Abe” Shmerling, and the city of Nashville, the community Abe loved and in which he served as a physician for 45 years.
It wasn’t until Abe’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis more than two decades ago that Michael, a prominent entrepreneur and investor, came to learn that care facilities are often a crushing mixture of boredom and restriction, with frustratingly under-trained staff. Casting a wide net, he found facilities with a worthwhile program or two, but they were exceptions rather than commonplace.