Caregiver Support Helps Persons with Dementia Remain with Family

Don Samman brought his mother Donna into his home over a year ago, when she was diagnosed with dementia and having trouble remembering to take her diabetes medication. After several months of caring for her around-the-clock, he discovered Memory Care and Wellness Services at Full Life Care's South Seattle location, where she now spends half a day, twice weekly.

"It helps with my peace of mind," Don says, "because I know she's safe there and enjoying healthy activities. And it gives me eight hours a week to run errands and do what I need to do."

 

Donna Samman enjoys
healthy activities during her
twice-weekly visits.


 

Family members like Don find themselves with a new, never-ending responsibility. Caring for someone 24/7 can take a toll on a caregiver's physical and emotional health, which may lead to a loved one's premature placement in a nursing home or other long-term care facility.

Memory Care and Wellness Services was launched six years ago as part of a state pilot project to provide community-based care for persons with Alzheimer's (or other types of dementia) while providing support for family caregivers.

Full Life's program is open Monday through Friday at several locations throughout King and Snohomish counties. It offers activities for cognitive stimulation and a structured fitness program in a social, therapeutic environment. A nurse and occupational therapist address the health and rehab needs of the participant, while a case manager and social worker provide enhanced support for the family caregiver.

The University of Washington Northwest Research Group on Aging found that participants attending the day program showed a decrease in the frequency of behavioral problems and improved quality of life. In addition, family caregivers fared better emotionally.

Nora Gibson, executive director for Full Life, has witnessed the effects of the program firsthand through the experiences of her parents, Joan and Bill. "My mother, who has dementia, had been having regular falls before enrolling in the program," Nora says. "The exercise component is hugely important for her."

The program includes a specialized exercise routine which incorporates a blend of strength training, cardio conditioning, flexibility and balance. Two staff members run the program—one to lead exercises and another to monitor participants and provide one-on-one support. A person with dementia can have trouble responding to auditory cues, but often the lightest touch can help the participant start an exercise movement.

The instructors watch the participants closely, monitoring them for pain or shortness of breath, which might be expressed in a grimace or pursed lips. They also make sure they get needed rest and water breaks.

Nora says her mother's "work on her core strength and balance has kept her from falling and makes it much easier for her to get in and out of a car. She hasn't had a fall in the three years that she's been enrolled in the program. It's definitely extended my father's ability to care for her at home."

Don says the program's physical and social activities have boosted his mother's mood and gives him a chance to "go have lunch with someone and blow off steam." He continues, "To be frank, if I didn't have this program to help out, I would crack."

To find out more about Memory Care and Wellness Services, contact Full Life Care at 206-528-5315 or www.fulllifecare.org.

—Doug Harkness, Full Life Care