For elderly, families, a daytime 'godsend' Break: Easter Seal's day care program for ailing seniors -- and their caretakers -- is coming to Woodlawn.

September 11, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

HAGERSTOWN -- For Cecil Anderson and his 50 companions, the worst thing about old age is "the routine of nothingness," and one of the best is going to day care.

The elderly people at the Easter Seal's Break-A-Way center here are not sick enough for a nursing home, but they have physical or mental disabilities that would require family members to stay home and care for them. Or they live alone and want companionship.

The program is inexpensive, compared with private centers that offer similar services to seniors. Easter Seal plans to open its second site in Maryland -- in Woodlawn -- on Oct. 30, and two others in the Baltimore area within two years.

The area society champions affordable daytime social and health care by licensed professionals for the growing number of elderly, and expects to take the idea elsewhere in the country if successful in Maryland.

The Hagerstown center opened in March 1995, and is a way for elders and children to "break away" temporarily. Two medical day care centers operate in nearby nursing homes, but no area centers offer social day care, officials said. Break-A-Way is unusual because it offers both services.

Anderson, 81, walks slowly after suffering a stroke. With others from the center, he plays games, visits art museums and jokes wryly about the dangers of retirement: "Watch out or you'll wind up in a lounge chair 26 hours out of the 24."

Kate Morningstar, 75, has many more limitations as a result of her stroke, in 1985, which impaired her mind. She lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Debra and Tracey Peyton, and goes to Break-A-Way five days a week. The cost is $35 a day.

"Break-A-Way is a godsend," said Tracey Peyton, a deputy sheriff who works nights. His wife is an office manager during the day.

Over a recent lunch, Morningstar offered her assessment: "We do games and crafts here. Sometimes I get tired but I like it here."

Said her son-in-law: "The program gives my wife and me a break, but it helps my mother-in-law even more. She's mentally sharper because of the activities and the interaction with others. It's wonderful on all accounts."

Growing fast is the population of older people requiring the care of someone who wants or needs to continue working, said Lisa Reeves, vice president of program services for the Easter Seal Society for Disabled Children and Adults, based in Calverton.

She cited a national study of family caregiving, released in June and sponsored by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons. It found that:

One in four U.S. working households has caregiver responsibility for an elderly relative. This amounts to 22.4 million families, a threefold increase in 10 years.

Nearly half of employed caregivers reported that their duties to their loved ones interfered with their jobs. Caregivers miss 50 percent more work than colleagues do.

The typical caregiver is a married woman in her mid-40s who works full time, is a high school graduate and earns $35,000 a year.

Reeves said Break-A-Way is unique in Maryland because it has dual licensure-certification by the state Office of Aging as a social day care center, and by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as medical day care with skilled nursing.

Proximity to workers

Woodlawn, the first Baltimore-area site, was chosen for its proximity to the 16,000 working people -- many of them caregivers for elderly parents -- at the Social Security Administration and the Health Care Financing Administration.

The Easter Seal Society is spending $400,000 to fix up a building in the 7300 block of Dogwood Road and start the program. Half was contributed by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

Robin Somers will direct the center, which will care for up to 48 people a day, with a total registration of about 70. Other locations will be determined later.

John Coe of the Maryland Office of Aging, who helped plan the Baltimore expansion of Break-A-Way, said it helps people in the fastest-growing population -- those older than 80 who may be in the early stages of dementia but who don't need skilled medical care.

'Low cost'

"I think the world of Break-A-Way," he said. "The stimulation it gives older people, the break it gives caregivers, the low cost, the partnership between Easter Seals and families."

The society is better known for work with disabled children but also has become experienced in eye care and other services for the elderly.

Break-A-Way charges families $35 to $40 less than usual private care fees of $65 to $80 a day. Each client costs Easter Seal $60 a day, but several factors lead to the lower charge: partnerships with the Hagerstown Housing Authority and the Washington County Department of Aging, fund-raising, Medicaid and mental health funds for certain participants.

The charge covers transportation, activities, lunch, health checks and medication administration.

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