MAC’s Parsons Day Center is there to help

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Carol Alex, left, and John Alex, of Parsonsburg and Linda Bennett, activity director and Pam Hampton, play dominoes at the Parsons Day Center.

Caregiving is an act of love. But it also can be exhausting and stressful.

The day program for the memory impaired at the Parsons Day Center of MAC Inc., the Area Agency on Aging, is there to help — both caregivers and their loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease or another dementia.

The center “gives caregivers a break from the stress of 24/7 caregiving,” according to Pam Hampton, center coordinator.  “It gives them time to do things they need to do: keep appointments, run errands or just rest.”

John and Carol Alex of Parsonsburg have been married for 56 years.

Alex, 91, was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about six years ago; his wife said she started seeing changes in him years sooner, but attributed those changes to the aging process.

“He would always drive,” Mrs. Alex said, but there came a time when he couldn’t remember how to get places. And with no family in the area, all the caregiving fell on her shoulders. She lost weight because she wasn’t able to eat or sleep.

“At first I didn’t understand what was happening,” Mrs. Alex said. She felt angry and her patience was in short supply. “I couldn’t leave him at home alone at all.”

“He took care of everything — the money, the house – then it all fell on me,” she said.

“It came to a point in time where family said ‘You need help,’ ” she said.

Two years ago, she decided to bring her husband to the Parsons Day Center.

Center participants are those with memory loss or confusion from dementia , or in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s, Hampton  said. Members should be independent in toileting and feeding to attend the center, and should be ambulatory. There is no age limit for participants.

The center provides “a social and stimulating environment that allows participants to stay at home longer and to possibly delay assisted living or nursing home placement,” according to Hampton,  a licensed social worker.

The program is a social model, explained Hampton, in that activities are socially, not medically, oriented. The center is not licensed to administer medication.

The space includes a community room where members enjoy a morning snack, music and games, such as bingo and dominoes, and mental exercises that may help them remember past and current events. There are also separate dining and arts and crafts rooms.

A typical day includes music — often lots of oldies and Big Band music — which Hampton said provides a way of connecting with the members, especially those with challenges in verbal communication. Music also offers participants the opportunity to interact on whatever level they are able, whether singing along, clapping their hands or tapping their feet.

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Pam Hampton, program coordinator at the Parsons Day Center.

A frequent visitor to the center is Lucy, who has arthritis and is an inspiration as a survivor of Stage II bone cancer.  The beagle mix rescue is a senior dog at about age 13. Her missing front leg, which was amputated due to the cancer, does not slow her down as she jumps into a chair beside center participants, and happily accepts their loving attention.

Outside the center is a therapy garden. Its centerpiece is a brick path, laid out in a figure-eight design.

“One of the first signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia is the fear of being lost,” Hampton said.  Walks on the figure eight will always circle back to the starting point, she said.

When the Parsons Day Center was built in 2009, as part of MAC Inc.’s new senior services building, area master gardeners volunteered to plant the initial selection of perennials.

Spring flowers will bloom soon, painting the space with color. Flower boxes, benches and a fountain add to the calm beauty of the space, which is bordered by a white picket fence.

“Some like to walk the path, or pull weeds,” Hampton said, but most important, the therapy garden offers a safe, serene setting where members can “enjoy the outdoors without fear of getting lost.”

The respite from around-the-clock caregiving has helped both husband and wife. Alex is more talkative and interactive in a group setting, his wife said.

“If it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t have a life,” she said. The 16 hours each week that her husband spends at the center allows her to take care of her own health by keeping up with medical appointments, in addition to attending a women’s Bible study, a caregivers support group, and volunteering. She said she feels less stressed, more patient and more able to devote the rest of her time doing whatever she can to make his life better.

The center provides respite care from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday.  It is part of the MAC building complex, which is located at 909 Progress Circle in Salisbury.

There is a fee for services, and the center receives funding from the United Way of the Lower Shore and the John B. Parsons Foundation.

MAC is also host to a Caregivers Support Group, which meets at noon the fourth Wednesday of each month. The group gives caregivers the opportunity to share their concerns and ideas with other caregivers.

In addition, a Caregiver’s Resource Center at MAC provides information to help area families cope with the demands of caregiving and to connect with services in the community.

For more information on the Parsons Day Center, call 410-742-0505, ext.  126, or email phh@macinc.org.

For more information on the Caregiver Resource Center, call Renee Fredericksen at 410-742-0505, ext. 172; email her at fredericksen@macinc.org; or visit www.maccaregivers.org.

To reach the caregiving support group, call Joan Emerick at 410-742-0505,  ext. 111.

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