“He is in his own little world, and it doesn’t include me anymore.” Tough words for any spouse to hear. Especially after 54 years of marriage, three children and four grandchildren.
But that is now Dianne Mason’s reality. Dianne lives in Lincoln with her husband Clayton, a retired submarine inspector and avid outdoorsman. Clayton, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, is now completely reliant on Dianne who spends her days keeping a watchful eye, answering his unending questions, and keeping him safe and occupied.
When a senior succumbs to a debilitating condition, the responsibility of full-time care often falls on the spouse. While, of course, this care is provided with the best of intentions, most are never quite prepared for the round-the-clock responsibility and commitment required to care for someone completely dependent. The obligation can sometimes be overwhelming, leaving little or no time to accomplish personal errands or even take a break.
Social daycare programs are designed to provide recreational, social and educational opportunities for older adults with memory or physical impairments and much-needed time off for their caregivers. Activities often include games, music, exercise, storytelling and crafts. These programs are often staffed by volunteers and meet several times a week, giving caregivers a little breathing room.
Through support from Sutter Health, Seniors First operates a local program that meets in Auburn and Lincoln. Recreation & Respite is run by professionals who understand the unique needs of its participants and the caregivers who are so grateful for the assistance. For the communities it serves, the program has already become an integral part of the lives of their senior residents. For the participants, the program is a lifesaver.
“After our youngest child began growing up, I often wished I had another baby. Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for. Because now I have another baby, but this one is 74 years old!” says Dianne, who is the first to admit that her sense of humor helps her cope with her situation. Without nearby family members to help her, Dianne is solely responsible for his schedule, safety, health and care – an exhausting task, by any measure.
Clayton is often uneasy in public, easily aggravated by the lights and activity. “Sometimes he screams and makes a spectacle of himself. I want to shout out to all of the onlookers, ‘He has Alzheimer’s! He doesn’t know what he’s doing!’ I never thought I would spend so much time apologizing for his behavior.”
Dianne knows she is fortunate to live in a county that supports a program where Clayton can be with other seniors with similar issues and she can run errands and have a break. “The first time I dropped him off, I felt so guilty, like I was abandoning him. Only to find he really enjoys himself and the staff is so loving to him. Even if it is to do housework and laundry, I enjoy those hours of peace.”
But caregivers also need to feel understood, validated and appreciated. In response, Seniors First also offers a caregiver support group that coincides with Recreation & Respite. Caregivers are invited to share their experiences and engage in conversation, a creature comfort that Alzheimer’s has robbed from Dianne. “What is the most difficult part of this journey? No doubt, not having anyone to talk to. Sure, he’s with me all of the time, but there is no conversation.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a cruel diagnosis, one that shortens lives, both in quality and quantity. Dianne knows that someday, sooner rather than later, she will lose Clayton altogether and, perhaps ironically, long for “the crazy, challenging but wonderful existence” she is now living. For now, she reminds herself to be grateful for each day, no matter what it brings. And, instead of crying, she chooses to laugh.
For more information on respite and recreation programs and other services for Placer County seniors, contact Seniors First at (530) 889-9500 or visit www.seniorsfirst.org.