More than just a place to come and sit

For seven years Javon DeWees has cared for her great grandmother since the then 84-year-old Jane lost her left hand in a car accident.

At that time DeWees was a college student living with her husband in Lompoc, Calif. Last year the family decided to make their dream of moving to Kaua‘i come true — the criteria for the move was three-fold.

“It came down to a job, real estate and daycare for grandma,” DeWees said. “I would not have moved here were it not for the daycare.”

Signs of Alzheimer’s further complicated life for the family last year.

“The transition took place the summer of 2007,” DeWees said. “Grandma had a bladder infection. That was when we saw the onset of dementia — her decline was pretty rapid after that.”

Disorientation, anxiety attacks and a penchant for wandering were among the symptoms. Preventative measures were taken as evidenced by bathroom safety rails, a shower chair, a baby gate on her grandmother’s bedroom, a rail along her bed, and alarms on both back and front doors.

“She can open the baby gate,” DeWees said. “But in the middle of the night it buys us time when we can hear her working the latch.”

As soon as DeWees and her family moved to Kaua‘i they enrolled Jane in the Wilcox Adult Day Care Program. From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week, Jane attends the center at Lihu‘e Christian Church. The program relocated from Wilcox Memorial Hospital property eight years ago into the social hall adjacent to the church on Kress Street.

Like a number of the program’s clients, Jane utilizes the Kaua‘i Bus paratransit to commute from home to the center. 

“I get her on the bus at 6:30,” DeWees said. “She was a working woman, so it’s no problem getting her up and going in the morning.”

Jane arrives at the center around 7:15 a.m. After she’s welcomed to daycare by staff members, she has a snack. When most of the 40 enrollees arrive by 9:30 a.m., the activities begin with opening exercises for the entire group.

DeWees was impressed by the convenient hours that the center is open, having just moved from Santa Barbara County where the best she could find for elder care offered service just three days a week. When she accepted a job on Kaua‘i as a behavioral health program supervisor, she was relieved to find the extended hours.

“We know people like Javon have to work,” said the program’s manager Caryn Sakahashi. “You have to service the working people.”

At first Jane resisted attending an elder care program.

“When she first moved in with us I tried to get her involved,” DeWees said. “She refused, saying, ‘I don’t want to be with those people.’”

But after two years of seeing her great grandmother isolate in the home, DeWees fabricated a story to get her to reconsider.

“I told her a lie,” she said guiltily. “I blamed it on the doctor and said that he said she had to go.”

In short order Jane was happily participating in activities at the elder center in Lompoc, Calif.

“Once she joined she loved it,” DeWees said.

Since the onset of Alzheimer’s last year one of the challenges DeWees and her husband face is when Jane becomes stressed.

“When she experiences anxiety, that is when her confusion increases,” DeWees said. “Then she can become combative.”

What Sakahashi recommends doing when family members with dementia or Alzheimer’s get agitated is to not engage in the argument.

“Trying to prove you’re right creates more stress,” Sakahashi said. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

“You just have to move on,” added DeWees. “Choose your battles or you’ll start asking yourself if you’re crazy.”

Taking on the role of caregiver arrived early for DeWees. When it became clear Jane needed full-time assistance DeWees was in her 20s and newly married.

“My great grandmother raised my sister and I, and my mother and uncle,” she said. “Her daughter died in a plane accident so she cared for her grandchildren and then for her great grandkids; not to mention working full time for Southern California Gas Company. Knowing I can care for her after she had a lifetime of caregiving — that’s the satisfaction.”

It’s a relief for her to know that Jane is in a safe and stimulating environment while she and her husband work.

 “When I’m tired from working all day, it feels good to know she’s (at the center) being interacted with all day,” DeWees said. “I pick her up and she’s tired. At day care all the activities help regulate things for her.”

While indeed there is a rest area with beds for clients, Sakahashi said that none of the kupuna take naps and she doesn’t encourage them to do so.

“I tell them now is the time for activity, you can sleep at home. This is not a place they come and just sit,” she said. “A lot of family members get anxious and worry their parent can’t keep up the pace … but they do. They should be here and not home sleeping all day and watching TV. It’s not good for them.”

On a chalkboard at the front of a bright spacious room is a schedule for the day listing games like black jack, song groups, art projects and meal times. Since it’s Halloween, bulletin boards and tables overflow with projects completed that week — colorful masks and hats made to look like chickens. The hats were made specifically for tomorrow’s Alzheimer’s Association “Memory Walk.” 

Morning at the center is devoted to exercise therapy. Kupuna first warm up together as one group, then break out into smaller groups for more physical activity. In addition to the day full of crafts, games and music, community groups and schools make regular visits to perform or play instruments. Two to three times a week clients go on outings to shop, have a picnic or go for a drive.

“When grandma comes home she tells me everything she did that day,” DeWees said. “She calls it her job.”

While there are those who are more impaired, Sakahashi said that every person is treated with dignity and respect.

“They may forget a few minutes later what they just did,” she said. “But for that moment they can still participate.”

Sakahashi has been the program manager for 25 years and is proud of the fact that she has no turnover in her nursing staff. Of the five nursing assistants, four have been with the program from 16 to 19 years.

“Having the same staff daily helps keep (clients) oriented,” she said.

To learn more about the center call 246-6919.

• Pam Woolway, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or pwoolway@kauaipubco.com

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