You’re older. You know you’re slowing down. You can’t do the things you use to, but now even the simple things aren’t getting done. Your very thoughts seem to take…longer. You forget what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Other people now dress you at the start of the day, put food in front of you when it’s time to eat and watch you as you brush your teeth. Your day ends as it always does lately, in frustration and confusion as you wonder, “What is going on?” This new life will never change, and it could go on for years.
The person you’ve built a life with starts to change. He or she forgets things, and then one day you realize that this person is no longer reacting to reality. Your loved one has slipped away. Shared memories and experiences are gone, and it is you and your support system caring for this person. You are still partners, but the roles and responsibilities have forever been altered.
“That’s the hardest part,” said Pat Perkins when discussing her husband of 33 years, “knowing that he’ll never be better.”
Pat began caring for Dick five years ago, when he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, which is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses: Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. Three years ago, she found Al’z Place, a program through ElderCare of Alachua County, and she says the program pulled her life together.
“That’s what makes this place so special: the staff,” she said. “They treat clients like family.”
Al’z Place provides specialized care to individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia in a home-like setting. Twenty-six clients spend about six hours a day, five days a week, at Al’z Place, which not only keeps patients active and engaged but also provides much-needed respite for caregivers
“I couldn’t help him,” Perkins said. “I didn’t know what to do and the hardest part was to make sure he had his dignity.”
The caregivers at Al’z Place know what to do while ensuring dignity. Everyone is greeted warmly and with enthusiasm. Clients are called by name to participate in activities. Simple gestures like a hand on the arm or a genuine smile get responses from patients who usually are inclined to sit and stare. Plus, clients stay active by spending breakfast together, discussing current events, exercising their minds and bodies, engaging in arts and crafts, having lunch and enjoying music.
“Nursing homes keep you alive. Al’z Place keeps you active,” said Mary Futch, a caregiver with Al’z Place.
According to Alz.org, the most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information, because Alzheimer’s typically first hits the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances through the brain, it leads to increasingly severe symptoms including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking. Source: Alz.org
Clients recently spent a week with Noell Hammer and the Art Without Boundaries program, where the therapist worked one on one with patients and assisted them in a painting project. Dick Perkins seemed interested in the colors and patterns. The former airplane technician created a vase of flowers, which Hammer helped him name “Roses for the One I Love.” The artwork was auctioned off at this year’s Moonlight and Martinis, the signature fundraiser of ElderCare of Alachua County.
To learn more about ElderCare, including volunteer and donation information, visit eldercare.ufhealth.org/services/alz-place today.