Adult day care brings variety to seniors' lives

December 08, 1992|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

Grace Donahue looked up from her crossword puzzle and extended a hand to a visitor, radiating cheerful Irish charm.

"She used to sit by the window and look out at the gray sky and weep," said her son, Jim. "She was waiting to die and said so. She had nothing to do. She just worked her puzzles and played solitaire."

A year ago, a friend told Jim Donahue about Baltimore County's adult medical day care program for senior citizens. She refused to go.

"I didn't want to hang around with a bunch of old people, and I wasn't very social," said the 85-year-old Mrs. Donahue, who is hard of hearing and walks unsteadily because of a bone disease.

But Mr. Donahue, a private investigator and former state trooper, nagged her into going for one day. Then two, then three.

Now Mrs. Donahue leaves the house near Towson that she shares with her son and three cats and spends seven hours a day, five days a week at the center, exercising, painting, singing, playing bingo and enjoying the music provided by volunteers. She'd be there seven days a week if she could.

"It's taken 20 years off my age," she says.

The program Mrs. Donahue enjoys in Towson is also available at the Ateaze Senior Center in Dundalk and the Catonsville Senior Center. Fourteen private licensed adult medical care programs operate in the county, and 80 operate in the state.

The Baltimore County Department of Aging began its program eight years ago and today cares for 184 people at three locations.

"It's not a baby-sitting service," says Shelley Garten, acting director of adult day care. "It's to maintain the independence of these people and keep them out of institutions. And it improves the quality of their lives."

Joe and Annette Meagher agree with that. Like Mrs. Donahue and her son, the Meaghers are heartland Baltimore. They reared their five boys and an adopted daughter in an eight-room home on Gibbons Avenue in Hamilton.

Mr. Meagher, 80, drove a truck and delivered milk for Sealtest for 25 years before retiring in 1974. He suffers from memory loss and Parkinson's disease, and attends the Towson adult medical day care program twice a week.

The Meaghers, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in April, live in a two-bedroom apartment cluttered with family memorabilia in Perry Hall, where they can walk to the grocery store. Neither drives, and friends and relatives take them to Mass at St. Joseph's in Fullerton on Sundays.

"I was getting a little frustrated with Joe," Mrs. Meagher said. "He gets fixated on time, as in what time is our son coming to visit, and kept asking me. I finally started putting up signs that gave the time and would just point to them."

Mrs. Meagher now attends an Alzheimer's support group and finds that it and her husband's trips to the center have extended her patience considerably.

Rita Quinn, director of the Towson effort, said that two of her clients were in institutions when they started the program, but had graduated to foster care.

"One woman who hadn't spoken in years now sings the lyrics to herself when our volunteer guitarists come in on Wednesdays for the sing-along," Mrs. Quinn said.

The center provides breakfast, a catered lunch and one snack a day. Transportation by CountyRide, a county service, is included in the $47-a-day fee. A registered nurse is on duty at all times and gives medication and therapy.

Any Baltimore County resident 60 years or older is eligible to be considered for the program if he or she has a social, mental or physical disability that requires a protective environment and a doctor approves. Nursing home residents are not eligible.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and in some cases, hours can be extended. Each person is assigned a social worker, with regular assessments of his or her condition. If a participant's condition deteriorates below the program's requirements, center personnel work with the family on alternatives. For more information, call (410) 887-2022.

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