Seniors stay active, independent at adult day care HOWARD COUNTY SENIORS

November 11, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Eighty-five-year-old Myrtle Mitchell sews, sings, does needlework and even teaches people how to make afghans. She complains that there's too much for her to do -- and her son loves it.

"If we had to put her in a nursing home where she would be bedridden, I think that would have been the end of her," Jim Mitchell said. "That would have been her demise."

Instead, Mrs. Mitchell, a retired welder and school bus driver, is enjoying her twilight years at Columbia's Winter Growth, an adult day-care center.

Winter Growth, along with an increasing number of similar centers across the county, is for senior citizens who are too healthy to live in nursing homes, yet too frail to be left alone all day.

Many grown children have jobs during the day and their elderly parents have nowhere to go, said Ann Chitale, activities director for Almost Family, another adult day-care facility in Columbia. "There's a great need for these centers."

The centers are always filled -- about 30 at Winter Growth and 50 at Almost Family every day. Few people are familiar with adult day-care centers, and of those who are, even fewer qualify for Medicaid to pay the cost because the county's average personal income level is so high, Ms. Chitale said.

The centers cost from $45 to $80 a day, compared with the $200 a day that is typical for a nursing home, giving legislators and health administrators an alternative as they look to control spiraling health-care costs in the state.

But the centers do much more. "It's a way to keep people in the community," said Barbara Bednarzik, the administrator at Winter Growth. "It's a way to keep people active."

Mr. Mitchell agrees. "There's no doubt in my mind that we've extended my mother's life and extended her quality of life by her going there," he said.

In Howard County, Winter Growth and Almost Family are the only two private day-care centers, but there also are three county-sponsored nutrition sites in Ellicott City, Columbia and Glenelg that provide an adult day-care setting with structured activities throughout the day.

Seniors come to these centers for a variety of reasons -- for something to do, says Ruth Outten, who commutes with about 20 others in a van from Baltimore to Almost Family off Route 108.

"[We] make teddy bears, quilts, pot holders, necklaces, earrings," said Ms. Outten. "I like to get out and be among other people. Everybody's nice."

"They come to really have some socialization, to have health monitoring," said Ms. Bednarzik of Winter Growth. "There are people who can't stay home alone. It's hard for them to start day care, but when they start, it becomes such a part of their life."

"It helps pull your days through," said Mary Snowden, 66, who goes to Almost Family. "You stay at home and you're depressed because there's nothing to do."

For 79-year-old Ida Gilbert, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, adult day care represents the last independence she has.

"I'm free to go into any room I want," said Mrs. Gilbert, who comes to Almost Family three days a week. "I'm not confined to do just one thing. I do what I want to do."

Both Winter Growth and Almost Family are licensed by the county and provide snacks as well as hot lunches throughout the day. They also have on-site registered nurses who administer medicine as well as monitor clients' health. They provide games and activities aimed at mental stimulation. There's singing, sewing, gardening, even talking in small discussion groups.

At Almost Family, there's even a group -- the Lilac Group -- for people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The goal is to stimulate sensory and auditory skills, and the method is to reminisce, says Ms. Chitale. "When they reminisce, they're remembering nostalgic events that took place in their past."

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