Alzheimer's patients get classroom attention ANNE ARUNDEL SENIORS

February 10, 1993|By Amy P. Ingram | Amy P. Ingram,Contributing Writer

When 90-year-old Estelle Wayson arrived at the Crofton Convalescent Center several years ago, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, she was listless and not very alert.

Now, her daughter says she's more alive and vivacious than ever before -- and Diane Kouns is part of the reason why.

Ms. Kouns, a program leader for Midday Activity Therapy (MAT) at Crofton, works with Mrs. Wayson and 13 other sufferers of Alzheimer's and dementia as part of a "classroom-setting" program specifically designed to meet each patient's individual needs.

Alzheimer's and dementia, which affect about 10 percent

to 15 percent of those over 65, cause an impairment in short-term memory and cognitive functioning and are not a normal part of aging. Dementia is treatable, Alzheimer's is not.

Virginia Phipps, Mrs. Wayson's daughter, said the program keeps her mother active and doing some of the things she likes to do.

"My mother needed a little extra attention. I couldn't always be there to give it to her," the Annapolis resident said.

"This group is like another family for her."

Ms. Kouns pulls the group together five days a week for six hours.

The residents meet in a classroom-like setting, a cozy room closed off to outside interference.

"They need familiar surroundings," said Randi Schwartzberg, activities director at the center.

"The Alzheimer/dementia patient can't handle large groups because it's too much stimulus for them -- too much outside noise and interference."

Voices, loudspeaker announcements, even the television can be upsetting to the Alzheimer's or dementia patient. Activities are modified to meet the patients' individual levels of understanding. Ms. Schwartzberg calls family members to learn the interests and hobbies of each resident. That's why Mrs. Wayson, who has always liked to read, is read to.

"Self-esteem is a real key for them," said Ms. Kouns. "That's why we encourage

them to do it by themselves. Finishing a task is a great accomplishment for them."

Ms. Kouns, who lived with her grandfather as a child, has always had an interest in senior needs.

"I have a soft place in my heart for these people," she said. "I've learned a lot from them. Believe it or not, they're happy people here."

A former elementary school teacher, Ms. Kouns took her experiences working with children into the seniors' classroom.

"The two groups are alike in the area of sensory, a need to touch things and put things together, and in the areas of practical life, learning how to set the table and fold napkins," she said.

For more information on the program, call 721-1000.

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