Volunteer Evangeline Grant, center, claps her hands and sings as clients Maria Vaquerano, left, and George Smith relax while listening to music at the Alzheimer’s Outreach Center on North Jefferson Street.
ALBANY, Ga. -- When a loved one is stricken by dementia, it is not just the patients who are impacted by the disease -- but also the family members giving them constant care.
Sometimes all that is needed to cope is a break.
The Alzheimer's Outreach Center, started in 1988 through a mission of a group of churches in downtown Albany -- among other services -- offers a program known as Alzheimer's Caregiver Time Out (ACTO), which now functions as the center's day care program.
The day care program, officials say, not only provides a break to the caregivers but also gives their loved ones stimulation that ultimately promotes socialization and alleviates isolation.
Some of the activities generally offered include music, arts and crafts, games, exercise, reminiscence therapy and pet therapy.
"It keeps them (dementia patients) as socially engaged as possible," said Virginia Griffin, the center's director. "We offer a social setting and try to keep them active.
"Otherwise, they will sit at home and take a nap and not sleep at night, meaning the caregiver is up all night."
The center is located at 314 N. Jefferson St., the site of a former service station that was once known as Albany Outreach Center. In addition to the adult day care service, the center also offers an Alzheimer's support group as well as in-home respite care.
There are nine staff members at the center, three of whom work out in the field, Griffin said.
While the day care service is not a medical model, there is a nurse on staff to help keep an eye on whatever issues may arise.
"Most of these people are 70-90 years of age," Griffin said. "Rarely is Alzheimer's the only disease they are dealing with. We don't do medical care, but we do catch these things and bring it to the family's attention."
The day care program is offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, while the in-home respite care is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The day care meals are provided by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, allowing the staff at the center to accommodate special dietary needs, Griffin said. Followed by the first activity and lunch, participants are taken into the recreational area for a music program.
Then there’s a dessert time before everyone goes home. The cost to the family for the day care program is $2.50 daily for the meal.
Officials with the center say they have found that separation anxiety is sometimes an issue with clients, which is why people are encouraged to come visit the facility before committing to the program.
"The activities director will take them into 'the big room,'" Griffin said of the typical client visit. "Usually the person we have to convince is the caregiver. The one with the disease will adjust."
There is a 21-person-a-day capacity for the day care program, with an average daily attendance of 19 or 20. To date, there is no waiting list in place of those requesting to participate in that program, Griffin said.
As part of the home care service, certified nursing assistants are available twice a week to assist with the needs of everyday living. Staff is typically in the home for about four hours, but can stay up to eight hours, Griffin said.
In contrast to the day care program, the home care program does have a waiting list. The home care costs are assessed on a sliding scale. For that service, there are usually 20 clients in a month being cared for, Griffin said.
The center works with any dementia as long as it is not in the advanced stages, Griffin said.
The way the staff sees it, the client is the caregiver rather than the care receiver.
"Because we are an aging population, there are more people in need of these services," Griffin said. "We know from research that 50 percent of those who care for someone with dementia die first. That's just not acceptable.
"(A dementia caregiver's) day never ends. You can't leave them (the patients) alone, and you have to safety proof the house."
On average, clients use the center for two or three years before their loved one's condition gets too advanced for the center to be able to accommodate them, Griffin said.
"We keep them as long as we can," she said. "The nature of the beast is that the disease will reach a point where they cannot be here. A lot of times, they will end up in a facility (after leaving the outreach center)."
The support group, conducted in collaboration with the Alzheimer's Association, allows dementia patients and caregivers a chance to interact with others in the same situation as they are as well as connect with available resources to help them.
The group meets on the first Wednesday of every month at noon at Central Baptist Church on West Third Avenue. A breakout session for those with early Alzheimer's takes place at the same time and location, allowing them to have a different group facilitator than the caregivers.
"For the group with the early stages of Alzheimer's, there are fewer people coming in," Griffin said. "We are working to get more information out there on the early stage group. We have trained personnel that can work with them."
With Alzheimer's, it is often the short term memory that goes first -- allowing patients to recall a 20-year-old memory but be unable to remember what they had for breakfast that morning.
Another consequence of a dementia diagnosis is a loss of independence, an impact Griffin has had constant exposure to.
"Eventually, families reach the point where they have to take away the car keys," she said. "I've seen families take the carburetor out, or park the car two or three blocks away.
"(Dementia) does not discriminate. It can hit anybody."
While drugs often improve the behaviors of an Alzheimer's patient, it does little to slow down the condition itself. That, coupled with dementia's far-reaching impact, might be incentive to put more emphasis on Alzheimer's research -- especially with the baby boomer population going into their golden years, Griffin indicated.
"There is more focus on Alzheimer's coming," she said. "If in 20-25 years we don't figure out how to slow it down...."
The outreach center was started as an interdenominational ministry of First United Methodist Church in cooperation with Byne Memorial Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church and Porterfield United Methodist Church.
The ACTO program came about after a similar program was discovered in the Atlanta area, which prompted a collection of resources to get a model going in Albany -- including funds from United Way, Griffin said.
"A young lady at First Methodist took a camera and filmed the program in Atlanta. Within a couple of weeks, we had all the volunteers we needed," said Griffin, who was with SOWEGA Council on Aging at the time. "SOWEGA wrote the grant, which enabled the hiring of a director (and an establishment of office hours)."
The center contracts with the council for the ACTO program. The center serves the same 14-county region SOWEGA does, Griffin said.
Gordon Wright, director of drama ministries at First United Methodist, has a connection to the center other than working with an entity sponsoring it. His mother, Dorothy Wright, participated in the day care program before passing away at the age of 93 roughly 18 months ago.
Wright said he was never stressed out about having to take his mother there, and that the staff kept him informed on what his mother was doing and how she was doing.
"(The day care program) allowed me to work here (at the church) and then pick her up," he recalled. "We never used the word 'Alzheimer's' with her, we told her she would work there -- and she was able to help some.
"(The staff at the center) were the most supportive, gentle people I've ever known. They always said nice things about her (my mother)."
Overall, he said he was satisfied with the center's ability to create an environment as close to home as possible.
"They do elementary arts and crafts, and my mother would stick her work on the refrigerator," Wright said. "They kept things inventive and imaginative."
Wright was in the position of caring for his mother for three years after his father died, so the center ended up being a very valuable resource to him.
"It helps for the sanity of the family to just have a break," he said. "My mother was not mean, she just required a lot of care.
"For me, it was the greatest break ever."
First Methodist owns the building in which the center is based, but does not charge for use of the facility. United Way helped to paint the inside of the building as well as do yardwork in a grassy area set up outside, Griffin said.
Aside from United Way, there have been others eager to volunteer their time to help the center out.
"We've had a lot of teenagers that come out to volunteer. They love it so much that they come back," Griffin said.
There are also nursing students from Darton College who come in to get a chance to get their feet wet, as well as older volunteers who help out, Griffin said.
The next major fundraiser for the center is set for Aug. 17 when it will be hosting the annual "Blast from the Past" event at First Methodist. The event, which is set to have a Rainbow Room theme, will be including a dinner and a live band, Griffin said.
This will be the fourth year officials are conducting the fundraiser. Typically, there is $6,000-$7,000 raised, but the goal this year is to go above that.
"If we only do one event (a year), we need to make more than that," Griffin said. "We would like to grow it."
For more information on the Alzheimer's Outreach Center, call (229) 432-2705.