[dropcap letter=”W”]hen Stan DeFreese’s father died in 2012, there was no question that his mother, Velma Jean would move in.
Velma Jean, a nurse for the Red Cross, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years earlier. And while still physically strong at the age of 83, the disease had ravaged her ability to independently and safely complete basic tasks like eating, bathing, and dressing. She was completely lucid at moments. But at other times, she was agitated, confused, or stared off blankly. “After living at home alone with my father in a rural area, it just seemed like the Alzheimer’s had really set in,” says DeFreese, a network engineer who also owns a jewelry shop with his wife, Cheryl. “I could see her going downhill quickly.”
DeFreese knew that his mom needed more specialized care on weekdays than he and his wife could provide. In 2012, he found exactly that at the Sam L. Cohen Adult Day Center in Biddeford (formerly Truslow Center in Saco), which provides weekday care for individuals who are contending with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
“At the Sam L. Cohen Center, she could get the specific level of care, stimulation, and social engagement that she needed,” says DeFreese. “It was far beyond what I could provide at home.”
At the Sam L. Cohen Center, Velma Jean takes part in a variety of activities and therapies ranging from painting to music, gardening, and cooking, with the support of staff that includes a nurse, social worker, and certified recreational therapist. What’s more, she gets valuable time to connect with peers.
Since Velma began going to the Sam L. Cohen Center weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., DeFreese has noticed a huge impact on his mom’s demeanor and the toll that Alzheimer’s seems to be taking on her.
“Her ability to communicate has improved dramatically, and she just seems so much more energetic and engaged — she laughs, sings, and claps,” he says. “And she really thrives on the routine of going there every day. It seems to reduce the amount of confusion and agitation that she experiences.”
Velma Jean is one of 250 individuals who has attended the center since it opened in 2016. Family caregivers can find plenty of respite and support services there, ranging from support groups and classes, to assistance from their social worker.
An estimated 1 in 10 individuals over the age of 65 are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Research suggests that the kind of stimulation the Sam L. Cohen Center provides may help slow the progression of the condition. Individuals who regularly attend adult day health centers show improved cognitive abilities and maintain their cognitive abilities for longer, studies have shown. What’s more, those who attend these programs have fewer falls and fewer visits to the emergency room.
“Staying active cognitively, socially, and physically is the best trio to fight memory loss,” says Dr. Heidi Wierman, a geriatrician with Maine Health. Simple tasks like walking, doing word searches, reading, and interacting socially with others can have a huge impact. “At the Sam L. Cohen Center you can get it all in one shot. And it makes it easy to do the right thing.”
DeFreese feels that the care and support his mom has been able to get at the Sam L. Cohen Center has allowed her to maintain her independence and continue living at home with him.
“She just has her zest for life back again,” he says. “She’s done so much better. And she just keeps on going.”
To learn more about the Sam L. Cohen Center, go to smaaa.org or call 207-283-0166.
[dropcap letter=”I”]s an adult day center right for your loved one? Marilyn Durgin, program manager of the Sam L. Cohen Center, answers some frequently – asked questions about the program.
What are the signs that a loved one who is experiencing memory loss or Alzheimer’s needs additional care and can no longer be at home independently?
If a loved one is not able to independently and safely complete daily tasks of life, such as meal prep and knowing when to eat, bathing, and taking medication, and if the individual tends to lose track of where they are or what time it is, then it’s time to consider additional support.
What are the benefits of attending a day health center, versus getting individual care at home?
Though attending an adult day program can’t stop the progression of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, research shows that the kind of cognitive stimulation, social engagement, and physical activity that a Day program provides may boost brain vitality and slow down the progression of these diseases. Close personal relationships can help reduce feelings of depression and isolation that often go along with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Going to the center on a regular basis gives individuals who are contending with these conditions an opportunity to develop a routine and make meaningful personal connections as they contend with the challenges of their conditions. The kinds of physical activities we do at the Sam L. Cohen Center — which range from walking groups to seated aerobic exercise to cornhole — help members maintain mobility, balance, and strength, so they can continue to move around as independently as possible for as long as possible. Members find that the mental stimulation and physical activity during the day allow them to sleep better at night. What’s more, because we see members every day, our staff can notice changes in members’ behavior that may indicate issues like dehydration, urinary tract infections, or other issues.
How do I know if my loved one is ready for an adult day program?
The sooner an individual with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia is able to develop a routine, and make connections with staff and other members of the program, the more beneficial the program has the potential to be. Members of our program range in age from their mid-50s into their 90s.
Lots of caregivers wonder whether it’s too early for a program like this, and end up waiting too long and the disease progresses to the point that the individual isn’t able to participate in the programs, and experience the benefits.
What’s a typical day like at the Sam L. Cohen Center?
On any given day, the activities might include watercolor painting, music group, crafts, pet therapy, musical performances, card games, gardening, cooking, and other physical activities. We tailor activities to suit members’ unique interests and abilities. We serve lunch in addition to a morning and afternoon refreshment.
How do you determine if it is the right level of care?
The Sam L. Cohen Center allows families to do a free three-hour trial visit to experience the program and determine whether the program offers the best fit.