Providing a respite for Alzheimer's caregivers

November 15, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Caring for an Alzheimer's patient can become a constant, tedious and often thankless job, with little respite from the demands of a patient suffering from memory loss.

"A lot of people can't find anyone trained and willing to come into the home and take over the care for a time," said Carmel Roques, a licensed social worker. "The family has no life because there is no safe, comfortable place where they can bring their patient."

Copper Ridge, a not-for-profit subsidiary of Episcopal Ministries to the Aging, is offering those caregivers an adult day care program at its facility for the memory-impaired in Sykesville.

"It is much like a sitter service but it is medically advanced," said Ms. Roques, who is the director of the adult day program. "Participants are monitored, and socialization is encouraged."

As care becomes more community based, she said, the number of adult day care programs is growing. She urges caregivers to make use of those programs instead of exhausting themselves by doing everything for their patients.

"There really is a point with dementia where you can't do it all by yourself," she said. The Copper Ridge program offers flexibility and is not based on a rigid weekly schedule.

Participants can spend from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. there, one day a week or five. The facility, a $17 million complex that opened last summer, also provides transportation to those who live within 15 miles of its Obrecht Road location, next to the affiliated 430-resident Fairhaven Retirement Community. Cost of Copper Ridge is $53 a day, plus $6 for transportation.

The concept is intended to serve both working caregivers and those "who just need a break," Ms. Roques said. "The respite is not just good for the caregiver. We see participants who really benefit from coming here and being with others in a different environment."

The day begins and ends in a homeroom, decorated with comfortable furniture to resemble a living room. Participants can linger over the morning newspaper or watch a favorite show on television. "The program is based on a social model rather than a medical one," Ms. Roques said. "These people need socialization and structural activity to keep them in touch with the world."

Copper Ridge also offers the service, which can manage up to 25 participants, to residents of its assisted-living unit. For them, "coming into the day program is like getting away from the usual environment for a day," Ms. Roques said.

"We try to be as flexible as possible," she said. "If our residents see something happening and want to join in here, that's fine."

The day is filled with structured activities, often simple crafts or food preparation. Residents also help in the kitchen with meals and snacks.

"Cooking and baking are somethings these people have done all their lives," Ms. Roques said.

When a participant wants to shy away from activity, a library and quiet room with a bed is just a room away. "Sometimes, group activity is just too much," she said. "We have a supervised place where they can read or lie down."

Alzheimer's patients, who need the freedom of mobility, can move around in a secure outdoor setting in the several enclosed courtyards. On indoor wandering paths, familiar decor "cues people as to where they are," Ms. Roques said. All along the hallways are windows and chairs.

"The staff is trained to work with dementia patients," she said. "We understand actual cognitive losses and how to structure activities so we're supportive and not creating more problems for our participants."

The participants may be at different levels of functioning, but the activities are intended to benefit them all.

"Some are actively doing something, some observing, and others are dropping in and out," she said. "I have seen people with profound cognitive losses who still reach out to others."

Next month, just in time for the holidays, Copper Ridge will begin its Carroll Club. Members will pay an enrollment fee and monthly dues for about 16 hours of care, which could include overnight stays for patients. "Alzheimer's families don't get to do many of the social things others take for granted," Ms. Roques said.

Information: 795-8808, Ext. 107.

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