Nurse T, of Southfield, Michigan, started working with veterans to honor her grandfather, who served in WWII. He was struggling with dementia and needed around-the-clock care, but her family wasn’t aware of the option available to them at the time.
She started her own adult day care center for veterans to help seniors and their loved ones make the most of what can be a difficult time. Kathleen’s Adult Day Care is designed to prevent social isolation in seniors by creating a sense of community.
“I want to focus on what they can do and not what they can’t do,” says Nurse T. She and her team often take the crew out on adventures to help them get out and see what’s going on in the neighborhood. “We have the social model as well as the medical model.”
Services at the center are free to veterans who have been honorably discharged via the VA.
Most of the seniors are cared for by relatives and loved ones when they’re not at the facility.
“Everybody is not born to be a caregiver and that is ok,” Nurse T explained. The program aims to give at-home caregivers and spouses a break as well, so they can take care of themselves. “We help to support the spouse and teach them how to cope with taking care of their loved one.”
She says the experience has been transformative. She remembers one veteran telling her that she saved his life. The VA called her and told her she needed to meet with a veteran right away. But she was shocked to discover the conditions in which he was living when she arrived. She performed a medical assessment, and he has been a part of the adult day care center ever since. He told her he probably wouldn’t be alive today if she hadn’t been there.
“When a veteran can tell me that or an elderly person can tell me, you saved my life, or it’s because of you, I’m still here, that’s more than anything, any money or any check,” she said.
Family members of the veterans say the center has become a lifeline for them and seniors.
“I love seeing my dad up and ready in the morning waiting on the van to turn the corner to pick him up for Kathelene’s Compassionate Adult Day Health Service,” said Jowana. “I get joy out of showing off pictures of dad to family members and friends of all the activities that he has been on while attending the center. Kathelene’s has made him feel productive and keeps him active at 80 years old. As a caretaker I feel blessed to have such a service available.”
Being the sole caretaker of a patient with dementia can lead to burnout, stress, poor physical health, and social isolation.
There are an estimated 55 million people with dementia worldwide, and experts say this figure is likely to double every 20 years. The majority of people with dementia live in the community. In the U.S., this number varies between 70% to 81%. And for approximately 75% of these individuals, care is provided by family and friends.
Most caregivers tend to be spouses, followed by children and children-in-law. Most also tend to be women. In the U.S., at least 60% of unpaid caregivers are wives, daughters, daughters-in-law, granddaughters, and other female relatives, although male caregivers are becoming more frequent.
Nurse T is also trying to spread the word to let families of veterans know that their loved one may be eligible for free adult day care services through the VA. The organization also provides training and support to caregivers of dementia patients to make sure they have the resources they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones.