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Adult Day Care provides socialization

Posted: August 2, 2009 9:59 p.m.
Updated: August 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center's Adult Day Care client Jose Hernandez, 83, (seated left, center) blows out the candles on his birthday cake. The Day Care, which is led by supervisor Gladys Ehrhardt (seen right, standing), regularly celebrates birthdays and other holidays along with many other enjoyable activities that make clients feel happy...

 
For many people, mention the term day care and they immediately have an image of children and backpacks.

But for millions of American households, day care represents a much different form of supervision.

It's a prized, life-changing respite for busy care-givers, and a stimulating home away from home for their dependent adult loved ones.

Approximately 25 clients attend the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center's Adult Day Care. Like the legion of other adult day care centers across this nation, many of its attendees suffer from Alzheimer's or some other form of cognitive impairment.

A number have had devastating strokes or have advanced Parkinson's. Each possesses some type of chronic condition that renders them incapable of caring for themselves.

When they arrive every morning - whether by wheelchair or lovingly guided in by a caring arm - each client has a look of anticipation on their face.

They may not remember what they did for a living, who their children are, or where they live, but they know they are there to have fun.

They may not be able to count backwards, or change a light bulb, or even remember to shower as needed, but they know this is a place for feeling alive and significant.

There's social stimulation and challenging games and conversations. There's a caring staff that protects and positively engages them.

Each day care client receives a hot nutritious lunch in the Senior Center's bustling dining room.

Amid live big band music, many sway and croon. Lyrics suddenly come back to them. Occasionally some melancholy tears trickle down.

After all, along with these old songs are often long tucked-away memories of youth, a time when one's energy and opportunities seemed limitless.

One of the most precious jewels in the Senior Center's multi-purpose crown is its state-licensed Adult Day Care Center. Supervised by Gladys Ehrhardt, the "club," as it is affectionately known, offers tremendous camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Such comforts become increasingly special when someone's mind and body - and connection to the world - have declined.

"To see clients interacting with other members of the group, to see their big smiles when winning a game and when listening, singing or dancing to music of their era ... to see the goodness and the kindness when helping each other with an activity, it's all so joyful," Ehrhardt said.

For caregivers, the five-hour window of time is a huge relief from the usual demands. Many are senior spouses or adult children with busy careers and children of their own.

Burnout is a constant threat.

"For a caregiver, respite care is the ability to have time of their own and to adjust and balance their own life. They can re-energize to continue with their loving care," Ehrhardt said.

Interacting with other members and making friends with whom they spend quality time is crucial for our clients, she added.

"This is stimulating for their mental awareness and it enhances their well-being and independence," she stated.

Rose Di Benedetto feels the Senior Center's Adult Day Care has made a momentous difference in her 83-year-old father Jose Hernandez' condition.

A retired printer with dementia, post-stroke impairment and congestive heart failure, widower Jose has attended Day Care for two years.

"They always make him feel welcome and special here," Di Benedetto said. "They ask him questions that challenge his mind. He wins little prizes during their games and when he comes home he puts them on his dresser. Dad is very proud of those prizes."

Not every day care client is a senior citizen, however. One woman who suffers from a genetic form of dementia is only in her 50s.

Ronald Saldana, another "young" boomer, endured a horrible motorcycle crash many years ago. Severe brain trauma and mobility impairment were the conditions accompanying his 2008 day care arrival.

Sister-in-law, Elena Saldana, praised the program's effect on Ronald.

"It's wonderful and lively here, and he loves it," she said. "Although he has head trauma and short-term memory problems, he remembers more being here. I think his short-term memory is improving."

Rose Di Benedetto, who was diagnosed with breast cancer within a year of her father coming to live with her, said she hopes the facility's doors will always remain open.

She knows, however, that with the state's recent slashes to day care funding, those doors are in jeopardy of closing.

"It breaks my heart to think it may close," she said. "For many of us, we rely on it so we can work, get out and shop, have a little time off from the stresses of care-giving. As much as I love my father, it's important to be able to do these things away from care-giving. It gives us both a break. He loves it here, and when I pick him up he is always laughing and talking about his day."

Di Benedetto, a trained pharmacy technician who has been looking forward to going back to work, said she's even worried about her own future if the Senior Center's Adult Day Care closes.

"I don't know what I'll do," she said.

Until her father came to live with her two years ago, he was with siblings back east, Di Benedetto said.

"There, day care was $150 a day and they took it from his Social Security and pension, but here we pay $25. If we have to pay more, we will to keep the doors open. For everybody's sake, we need to do what we have to do."

Elena Saldana echoed Di Benedetto's concerns.

"I cannot even imagine what would happen if this day care closed. It would be devastating for Ronald. He looks forward to coming here and he feels important here," she said.

As for increasing day care funds, Elena Saldana commented, "If we have to pay more we will. We will all come to a happy median."
Brad Berens, who for 19 years has been executive director of the Senior Center, acknowledges that day care is a precious - and endangered - asset.

"Our Adult Day Care Program and its related services are perhaps the most socially significant programs in the community, as it protects not only the most vulnerable and keeps extended families intact, and allows for caregivers to remain productive."

The possibility of it closing is a worry, but Berens maintains, "We will manage to get through this."

"I know our Board of Directors, our staff and our supporters, as we have always done, will find a way to continue to provide these vital services that are essential to the well-being of our community itself," he said.

Berens expounded on Day Care's worth.

"The awareness of this program's necessity and vital nature is best seen through the stressed and frightened eyes of the caregiver when faced with the prospect of going it alone," he said.

"The thrill and true human experience is best seen in a renewed cognizance and sparkle in the eyes of the care recipient as they progress with an enhanced quality of life, sometimes only marginally, other times magnificently, as they are lovingly cared for and engaged.

"Truly, these are Mother Teresa moments, day in and day out."

For further information about the SCV Senior Center's Adult Day Care program, or to make a donation to help save Day Care, call (661) 255-1588.

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