As Fairfax County’s population continues to age, the demand for services that serve the older segment of the county’s population continue to grow as well.
The nonprofit Alzheimer’s Family Day Center in Fairfax is one organization making plans for growth. Now serving about 35 participants per day, the center is working with a developer to build a new facility in the Mantua area that could handle more than 50 participants per day in the center’s specialized adult day care program. The new location isn’t expected to open until early 2014.
“We’ve just outgrown our space here,” said Executive Director Joel Bednoski. The center, which got its start in the basement of a church, has been at its current location in Fairfax for about eight years.
In addition to the day care center, Alzheimer’s Family Day Center offers support groups for caregivers, educational series to share information about Alzheimer’s and the services available, and training for county employees. The center also offers free consultations to help caregivers develop a care plan for a family member.
The center’s clientele represents a small fraction of the estimated 13,600-plus people with Alzheimer’s or dementia in Fairfax County as of 2010, according to a July report by the Virginia Alzheimer’s Commission.
However, the center is the only one in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area that specializes in daytime care for people with memory impairments.
Bednoski said that everything that happens within the center is designed with memory-impaired people in mind.
“All of our activities are geared toward success,” he said.
The center staff collect detailed biographical information about participants before they arrive, so that staff are better prepared to understand the participants’ behaviors and questions.
“If we know nothing about them, we might not know why they’re asking for ‘Gladys,’” Bednoski said.
Participants in the later stages of the disease, members of the “Sunshine Club,” have a different activity room than those who are in the earlier stages. Their activities are more focused on sensory stimulation than the trivia, bingo and craft activities that the “Friends Club” — participants in the early to middle stages of the disease — does.
Having people with Alzheimer’s and dementia interact with one another as peers can make their quality of life better than having them always be in an environment where they are the lowest functioning person, Bednoski said.
In that environment “they get embarrassed easily. You can see an increase in anxiety. You can see aggression,” he said. “It just does not set them up for success.”
Fairfax County also serves clients with Alzheimer’s and dementia in its five Adult Day Health Care Centers. When people become too low-functioning for the county facilities to care for them, families may be referred to the Family Day Center.
The county also offers in-home supports that, like adult day care, are designed to help keep people out of nursing homes longer and to provide support for caregivers.
“One of the greatest needs that caregivers have is to get respite, which is a break … so they can get out and do other things,” said Sharon Lynn, director of the Fairfax County Area Agency on Aging. “I can’t think of any caregiving that is more stressful than caring for someone with dementia.”
In addition to in-home care and day care, the county also operates a volunteer respite program, to allow families to get out for a few hours on evenings or weekends when the county services are not available.
Bednoski said he thinks there still is a lack of awareness among families caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s that there are a lot of supports available to them.
“We’re that in between step,” between living independently and going into nursing care, he said.