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Canyon Country couple finds hope

Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center’s Adult Day Care program helps woman suffering from CADASIL

Posted: December 10, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 10, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Jody and Bob Merriman, of Canyon Country, laugh together. Jody Merriman has been coming to the SCV Senior Center’s Adult Day Care program since 2008. Jody and Bob Merriman, of Canyon Country, laugh together. Jody Merriman has been coming to the SCV Senior Center’s Adult Day Care program since 2008.
<p>Jody and Bob Merriman, of Canyon Country, laugh together. Jody Merriman has been coming to the SCV Senior Center’s Adult Day Care program since 2008.</p>

To look at Jody Merriman, smiling, interacting with others and sometimes even singing, one might never guess she has a rare genetic disorder.

When she first began showing behavioral changes several years ago, Jody and her husband, Bob, weren’t sure what to make of it, and neither were doctors. Some tests raised suspicions of a seizure disorder; others of progressive multiple sclerosis. Nothing was conclusive, until a gerontologist at Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City diagnosed it as CADASIL.

Standing for cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy, CADASIL is a genetic disorder with similarities to Alzheimer’s disease, Bob explained.

“I finally found my soul mate, and the thought of losing her (when she was diagnosed) was devastating,” he said. “She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. She’s been my angel.”

Among the effects of CADASIL, he said, has been cognitive dissonance, which can leave Jody unable to voice or express what she’s thinking.

“It can be very frustrating for her,” he said.

At this point, he said, Jody has plateaued, though there’s no way of telling if her condition will worsen. There is no way of reversing it, though, Bob said.

Coming to the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center’s Adult Day Care program in 2008 made a huge change, Bob said.

“She loves to come here. I can’t say enough good things about the staff,” he said. “They do wonderful things. … She was so withdrawn. This made such a tremendous difference in her quality of life and for the rest of our family.”

No longer withdrawn, Jody will sometimes sing and dance during music programs at Adult Day Care.

“This program has been such a godsend,” Bob said. “The ability to have her here has enriched our life.”

While Jody’s condition cannot be reversed, he said the programs at Adult Day Care have done wonders for her mind.

“The mind is like any other muscle,” Bob said. “If you don’t exercise it, it will atrophy.”

Having Jody at Adult Day Care has also provided a health benefit for Bob.

Shortly after retiring in 2010, he said, he was diagnosed with cancer. Though he would spend three months in the hospital, he was successfully treated. Now, he said, having Jody at Adult Day Care allows him time to go to the gym, keeping him healthy to care for his wife.

The couple has been married for 22 years, and Bob said his Catholic faith sustains him.

When Jody first came to the Adult Day Care program she didn’t talk at all and wouldn’t make eye contact, Program Director Gladys Ehrhardt said. For the next two months, she made daily efforts to gain Jody’s trust and bring her out of her shell.

“Every day, I was holding her hand and saying her name,” Ehrhardt said. “I would hold her face with my hands, and have her look at me. I knew someone was inside.”

That dedication paid off.

Now, Jody is frequently smiling, interacting with others in the Adult Day Care program. She’ll even sing along when crooner Joe Valenza comes by the Senior Center to sing songs by Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and others.

Ehrhardt said the reward of her job is seeing the changes in people such as Jody.

“It makes me cry. To see the response when people here have discussions and conversations – that makes my day,” she said, and added she’s also seen a change in Bob. “He’s a much happier person. He doesn’t have to worry when he leaves her here.”

The Senior Center’s Adult Day Care program focuses on adults with Alzheimer’s disease, other types of dementia, post-stroke, Parkinson’s or other conditions that require assistance and supervision.

Monday through Friday, the program includes a daily lunch; arts and crafts, cooking and gardening exercises; fitness classes; and therapy animals.

There are currently about 20 people served by the Adult Day Care program, which is funded through client donations as well as money provided by Los Angeles County. The program asks for suggested contributions of $35 for care and lunch from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and $15 an hour from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Adult Day Care also provides individual needs assessments for its clients, support groups and educational information for family members and individual and family counseling.

Limited funding is an ongoing challenge for the program, Ehrhardt said.

“We need funds, to support the families that really need this service,” she said. “We work with clients’ minds to bring them back, under care and supervision.”

Rachelle Dardeau, the executive director of the Senior Center said it’s difficult to overstate the importance of the Adult Day Care program.

“Gladys and her staff do an amazing job of caring for men and women at a vulnerable time in their lives,” she said. “They are completely dedicated to treating them with dignity and enriching their lives.”

Bob hasn’t been able to say enough good things about the program and what it’s meant for Jody.

“She loves to come here,” Bob said. “And they love her.”

For more information about the SCV Senior Center’s Adult Day Care program, call 661-259-9444, ext. 131.


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