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Senior Center offers safe, nurturing respite

Giving relief during trying times

Posted: August 10, 2008 8:26 p.m.
Updated: October 12, 2008 5:02 a.m.

The Adult Day Care Respite Center at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center provides caregivers with help for their aging loved ones.

 
The Golden Years aren't always as gilded as we'd like them to be. All too often, that period of life which should be relaxing and stress-free, is affected by life-altering health and psychological challenges.

Whether due to disabling conditions like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, severe memory impairment, or a crippling stroke with associated depression, a person's autonomy can quickly decline.

When that happens, performing the normal activities of daily living such as driving, shopping, toileting, dressing, feeding, and administering one's own medication, can become impossible - and round-the-clock care is needed.

Care-giving is one of the most energy and time-absorbing responsibilities in the world. Frequently, those doing it wind up compromising themselves in the process. When that occurs, matters like tending to one's own needs can easily get ignored. Owing to that self-neglect, some wide-ranging negative effects can develop. Not only does such burn-out ultimately affect the quality of one's care-giving, it can also take a heavy head-to-toe toll on the caregiver.

Studies have actually shown that caregivers often die before those they provide care for. This is believed to be largely due to lack of self-care, worsened by stress, fatigue and resultant medical conditions.

The Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center's Adult Day Care Respite Center provides caregivers with vital "time-out" while offering those they care for a safe and nurturing environment.

There, the participants, many with advanced dementia, memory impairment, or post-stroke, discover a cheerful environment in which to thrive. The special program has even been shown to delay or prevent certain debilitating aspects associated with disorders of the very frail elderly.

With conscientious attention from a caring staff, the facility provides enjoyable social interactions and cognitive stimulation.

Offered are: engaging activities such as word games, bingo, and current event discussions, exercise, personal care, field trips, snacks, and hot, supervised lunches. Also on tap: wonderful music which participants sing, clap, and dance to - even if it's from a wheelchair. Many of the tunes, performed on piano by talented senior volunteers, are from the unforgettable songbook of their lives.

Even for clients who solemnly enter the door with their heads held low, once "Chattanooga Choo Choo," or "In the Mood" starts playing, a happy, kinetic transformation commences for them as well.

The social day care is one of the most vital programs offered in the Santa Clarita Valley, said Brad Berens, executive director of the SCV Committee on Aging, Corp., a charitable, nonprofit 501(c)3 organization serving the needs of 35,000 senior citizens and functionally impaired adults in the North Los Angeles County and surrounding unincorporated areas of the Fifth Supervisory District.

"Our adult day care program provides resources that address the multitude of issues related to the needs of dependent adults and their caregiver," Berens said.

In addition to social day care, the Supportive Services provides many other important programs and services to clients and families in need. Among them: Special programs that allow older, frail citizens to "age in place" in their own homes for as long as possible; assessment and care management (professional gerontological staff who analyze each person's needs and link them with appropriate services); licensed professional counseling; peer counseling; in-home visits to homebound seniors; consumer information; legal assistance; benefits applications, and more.

Oftentimes family members don't grasp the need for respite care until they're faced with care-giving, Berens said.

"Then they truly fathom the responsibility and burden that care-giving entails," he said.

Berens said in years past, the program primarily served elderly caregivers who were also dealing with their own aging-related issues.

In recent years, however, services have almost become equally divided between older caregivers and adult children whose parents now require constant supervision.

"In many cases, these adult children are also coping with care-giving responsibilities for young or adolescent children and tax the family dynamic to the extreme. In all cases, there are physical, psychological and financial burdens connected to dealing with an elderly dependent loved one," Berens said.

"Our center is really like a club," said Day Care Supervisor Gladys Erhardt, who recently assumed the reins following longtime director Jackie Reibsamen's retirement. "You see the people interacting with others here, and how this social day care really lifts them out of their conditions."

"There is always room at this club for new members," she said, with a smile.

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