Providence's Adult Day Program a life saver

  • November 27, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - June Dickenson knows exactly what ails her and precisely what keeps her life on track.

“Alzheimer’s. I’ve had it for some time,” she told a visitor. “I couldn’t do without this guy.”

Dickenson’s guy is Norm, her husband of 56 years.

While June counts on Norm to keep the house in order and cook the meals, Norm has had to look a little further afield for the supports he needs.

He knows his life would be a lot harder without the Adult Day Program at Providence Healthcare .

“It gives me an opportunity just to do things, shall I say, without interruptions,” said Norm. “Sometimes I just do nothing.”

Norm drops June off at the day program for a half day twice a week. Through Providence, he also attends meetings with other husbands who are caring for their wives, drawing inspiration and support from men who face some of the same challenges.

“That’s the thing, we help each other,” he said.

June loves to sit in a sunny, warm spot with a book and can be left alone for a couple of hours. Through the husband’s support group, Norm has heard the stories of men who have a steeper hill to climb.

“I realized how fortunate I was,” recalled Norm of a conversation he had with one of the other husbands. “When he described some of the things he was coping with...”

The Providence Adult Day Program is unlike any other in Canada. It serves about 90 clients a week and more than 500 per year, all organized into clubs. The people in the clubs are never patients or clients. They’re members.

The members join their club for a period of a few hours or overnight. Sometimes members can stay with three clubs consecutively, giving their family caregiver a full-day’s break.

Twenty-two professional staffers run therapeutic programs and deliver care over a 24-hour cycle through the five weekdays and then all-day Saturday.

This year, with the help of $2.5 million in private donations, the 14-year-old program moved into new, purpose-built space with two gardens, overnight suites, activity rooms, kitchen, dining area, skylights, dance space, computers for all and even a telescope for astronomy buffs.

The new home is full of light, and that’s important. Natural light has an important effect on how Alzheimer’s patients function.

“On a dull day, I’m down in the dumps,” said June.

The most important insight Providence brings to the care of Alzheimer’s cases is a broader definition of who they are serving, said the program’s clinical resource co-ordinator Anne Spalding.

“The health-care system looks at the individual,” Spalding said. “They don’t look at the people providing care.”

Caregivers — daughters, sons, husbands and wives of Alzheimer’s patients — are subject to a variety of stresses and receive little help from the formal health care system, she said. When Spalding recently asked the wife of an Alzheimer patient, “And how are you doing?” the woman stopped in surprise, then said, “No one’s ever asked me that.”

About 45 per cent of the caregivers in the program have jobs in addition to keeping house and caring for someone with dementia.

Working with Alzheimer’s patients is as rewarding a job as Kylie Dyer can imagine.

“Making that little difference, it’s pretty awesome,” said the intake and clinical resource co-ordinator.

By caring for caregivers, the Providence Adult Day Program saves families from the confusion of trying to navigate the health care system, and saves the health care system from dealing with the disasters that happen when caregiving breaks down, said Spalding.

“An environment like this, our caregivers say it’s a life saver,” she said.

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