Like countless others, the effects of Alzheimer’s on a loved one has changed our lives tremendously. In 2012, my brother and I abruptly uprooted my mother from her home in Chicago as it was evidently clear she could no longer care for herself. We were truly lost grappling with shock and the parent/child role reversal. We had little knowledge or experience with dementia and ALZ. While she was recovering from what could be described as a breakdown, we toured many facilities in hopes of considering future options. I distinctly remember meeting with director and the staff. I had tears in my eyes describing how active and vibrant my mom once was and now not knowing what to do. They put some of our worries at ease as we were all emotionally fragile at that time processing the enormity of changes in our lives. Here were some of our concerns:
- Would our mother be open to a new social circle?
- Would any facility be able to accommodate our work and school schedules?
- What activities would be provided?
- Would our mother like the food options presented?
- Would this be a place good enough for her?
We initially started our mom on a two-day per week schedule. It was convenient that they had extended hours built into their fees. Many places we visited had a pick up of 3:00pm or 4:00pm which doesn’t accommodate a normal working schedule ending at 4:30 or 5:00pm. She’s greeted and welcomed as soon as she arrives. Our mother comments that the food provided at lunch is delicious. They provide a preview of the upcoming month’s activities that run the spectrum ranging from chair yoga to movies to music performances to intergenerational involvement. Our mother enjoys the program and the variety of activities that allow her to be involved. We were looking for that outlet. At home, she takes on a more passive role. Here at St. Paul’s, she is the participant giving her a sense of purpose and direction. After some consideration, we decided to increase her time there to three days a week.
The two aspects I’d like to highlight are the music performances and their field trips. I’ve seen the impact music has on those with ALZ. It gives them a much-needed calming effect. It’s been a joy to see my mom close her eyes and feel the music through swaying and the waving of her arms. It’s a moment where I know she is truly content amidst the confusion. Also, I am so grateful for the field trips they provide. We’ve seen an extra spring in her step when we tell her there is a field trip to the coast or to a yogurt shop or to a restaurant. I’m convinced that although we do the same for her at home, she enjoys being part of a group setting. She sometimes has difficulty remembering details of the field trip that day but there is always a smile on her face when we ask her about it.
St. Paul’s Senior Center has been a lifesaver for us. I have a family of my own and could be the definition of the sandwich generation tending for both young and old and holding a full-time job. I read articles of how exhausted and frustrating this can be. I am sometimes still in disbelief that it describes me personally. But now I know we are not alone. I know where there are resources and options. It’s still a difficult roller coaster ride I would not wish on anyone but I’m so grateful St. Paul’s has been part of this process. They show genuine care and compassion and it shows in their participants such as my mother. There should be more centers such as these; more centers that remain affordable, are of very good quality and that accommodate their caregivers’ lives. Unfortunately, there are not. I strongly urge you to consider granting funding to St. Paul’s. They serve an important and sadly increasing population in our community.