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Improving Quality of Life for Alzheimer’s Patients, Caregivers

  • Faiza Elmasry

As America's elderly population grows, so, too, does the need for specialized care for adults with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A facility in Fairfax, Virginia, provides that care, and also supports the children and spouses who are the seniors' primary care-givers at home.

Linda Roberts' mother - like more than 5 million Americans - has Alzheimer’s.

“I went to visit her five years ago, found out some stuff was going on. I packed her up that weekend and took her home,” said Roberts.

She joined the more than 15 million family members and friends caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Roberts said it has been devastating to watch her mother struggling with the incurable brain-wasting disease. Being her mother's sole caregiver, she added, also is daunting.

“It’s extremely stressful being a full time caregiver-keeping my patience, trying to over and over repeat things that I need to get done. I think that’s my frustration,” she said.

Two years ago, Roberts found help at the Alzheimer’s Family Day Center, where adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia can spend the day in a supervised, enriching environment… much like a daycare center for young children. The facility is open on weekdays from early in the morning to late in the afternoon.

“It’s really given me time to do things during the day and pursue some hobbies or have some time to myself,” said Howard Simmons, who began bringing his wife to the daycare center three years ago.

“She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in about (20)06. In about '07, '08, I was becoming quite frustrated because when you’re the principal caregiver and they are home, you’re doing everything. You know, I became the cook, the cleaner,” he said.

The retired civil engineer said having his wife here every day eases his mind. He knows she’s in a safe place, taken care of and well-fed.

“We serve breakfast, we serve lunch and two snacks a day,” said Lisa Wright, the facility's program manager. She noted that the staff also provides a wide variety of activities that are therapeutic, and fun.

“We have an artist come in and do just specific art with small groups. We have musical therapy where we have a lady that brings in instruments and they all get to play the instruments. We have a physical therapist here two days a week," said Wright.

"We have a ballroom dancer that comes in. I think that's probably the favorite. We do a lot of mind-challenging games. The other day I stepped in to do some activities and we focused on pairs, so we talked about what comes in pairs. So we do brain exercise type of activities, as well,” said Wright.

Medical care also is available.

“We have a nurse practitioner that comes once a month. We have a fulltime nurse on staff. We can handle almost everything right here during those hours,” said Wright.

In addition, the center offers services for caregivers.

“We have a support group that they can come and just share with one another. We have an outreach and education. [If] there are issues at home, our social worker would go make a home visit and maybe some suggestions on how to make things easier,” said Wright.

Galeet BenZion has relied on that help. When her husband was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, in his mid-fifties, the teacher and education researcher become, for all practical purposes, a single mother of two young daughters.

“The first thing I felt was that I really need a lot whole of support because I didn’t know anything about Alzheimer’s. I certainly wasn’t prepared to be alone at age of 45, meaning, take care of a house and kids and mortgage and everything else that life entails,” said BenZion.

Caregiver Howard Simmons said it is reassuring to meet with other caregivers, and share experiences and advice. He’s grateful that such services are available for him, and his wife.

“I can’t say she’s improved, but it gives her something to do. She enjoys it,” he said.

That’s what makes this day care center a special place for Alzheimer’s patients - and their families.

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