After a suspension of nearly 15 months, the CJFS CARES dementia respite program resumed in-person sessions on June 7 - a day long wished-for by participants, caregivers, volunteers and staff. “It’s hard to express what a relief it is to everyone that we are back together in our community,” said CARES Program Director Pam Leonard, LBSW, CDP. “One day this week, we were in the middle of exercise, and a participant just stopped and said, ‘Oh, it is so good to be back.’ I think that’s how we all feel.”
When CARES opened in 2015, it was the first dementia respite program of its kind in greater Birmingham. Pam then mentored other organizations launching similar programs, vastly expanding options for individuals affected by mild to moderate dementia. When COVID-19 forced CARES to be suspended in March 2020, the program began providing virtual music, art and exercise programming, as well as social opportunities for participants via Zoom. The caregiver support group changed from a monthly in-person offering to a Zoom program offered twice each week. In addition, special funding from United Way of Central Alabama and Community Foundation of Birmingham enabled Pam to provide one-on-one caregiver support at no charge. But for participants, there was no replacement for the joyful, welcoming and engaging physical environment of CARES.
Caregiver Anne Bloomer said her husband, Joe, is simply able to do more when he is at CARES than when he is at home. She described a long-standing joke he shared, pre-COVID, with CARES Assistant Program Director Lise Grace. “Lise would say, ‘Hey, Joe, what do you know?’ and Joe would say, ‘Just got back from Kokomo.’ This time, before we took him back to CARES, we practiced it with him, but he couldn’t do it. And then, his second day back at CARES, he was able to do it with Lise. ”With his friends at CARES, she said, Joe is also able to play games and participate in exercise - activities that at home either frustrate him or fail to hold his interest. “There’s more activity at CARES than we can provide at home, and he gets opportunities to socialize, which makes him happy. I think that at CARES, he’s getting back the ability to pay more attention to what’s going on. And when he comes home, he’s happy. He’s energized, and he’s more present in the moment. I’m hoping to see more of that.”
Joan Burns had been attending CARES for about two years when the pandemic hit. “When she wasn’t getting up and going the CARES anymore, she would basically sleep until lunchtime,” said her husband, Bob Sehlinger. He wondered if Joan would have trouble getting into her pre-COVID routine; but he found she’s still excited to go to CARES. “The first day we took her back, and she saw Pam and Lise, she was so happy. I know she looks forward to going and she really enjoys it, and I know it’s very good for her.”
CJFS CARES (Caring for Adults through Respite, Enrichment and Socialization) offers four hours of respite care, Monday-Thursday, for those affected by mild to moderate dementia. At this time, participants, volunteers and staff members are required to be vaccinated, and the program is currently operating at a reduced capacity. For more information, please contact Pam Leonard, email@example.com or 205.960.3411.