Easing the burden after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis

CSRA News

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – An Alzheimer’s diagnosis does not just impact the person with the disease. The diagnosis has an impact on the entire family. Thankfully there is an organization in the CSRA that is easing that burden and helping patients lead fulfilling lives for as long as possible. Jennifer Pennington, the Executive Director of the Jud C. Hickey Center for Alzheimer’s Care, and board member, Jan Wiggins, explain it all.

Brad Means: Jennifer and Jan thank you all for being with me today, I appreciate it.

Jan Wiggins: Oh we appreciate being here, thank you.

Brad Means: Jenn the numbers are overwhelming, when you think about how many people are impacted by this disease. Coming up on six million, give or take in the US. My question to you, when it comes to the Jud C. Hickey Center how soon can you allow people into your facility, and it’s a daycare facility, can people with early onset come on over? Do you have to wait until it’s full on Alzheimer’s? Tell me about that.

Jennifer Pennington: Sure, we’re an adult day center and we are for individuals that have dementia, or Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. And we’re specifically have programing that is geared towards individuals with mild to moderate. So that means that somebody that may be early, that could be early onset, they could have been just diagnosed. But it’s at a point where someone has started to lose some of that independence that they used to have. Quite often that happens when you lose the ability to drive. And so, once you’re not able to drive it makes a lot more difficult for you to go out and exercise, for you to hang out with your friends, really for anything that you want to do outside of the house, you’re gonna have to rely on somebody else to do that for you.

Brad Means: Now is mild to moderate a clinical determination, or is that something y’all determine? Where you say we can’t handle them anymore, you can’t come here anymore.

Jennifer Pennington: Well, you know, it’s interesting that you would say that. If you came into the center and you interacted with the participants in our program, and we do call our participants members, because they’re a part of our center. They’re not patients, we have a vast variety of things that we do throughout the day. Physical fitness, we have great meals, we have all sorts of cognitive stimulation.

Brad Means: Yeah, I want to talk about that.

Jennifer Pennington: Yeah, and you know you would probably, we have kids that come in a volunteer and they walk away thinking, oh they’re just like my grandparents. And you probably wouldn’t see any difference. The individuals at the center may have some difficulties with short term memory but they still are who they are, at their core. If they were, you know, sweet, and caring, in their whole life, that’s who they are. If they’re funny and witty, that’s still who they are. And, there’s a lot of living to be done once you have that diagnosis.

Brad Means: But once it gets to, who says they’re too severe to come to you. You or the doctor?

Jennifer Pennington: Well, we have a whole system at the center and we base it on the gems program.

Brad Means: Yeah, yeah.

Jennifer Pennington: And Teapa Snow developed it and so, we’re very concerned with making sure that everything that we do is very dignified. And you don’t always see that, so we want to make sure that rather than someone calling mild or high functioning we have, it’s a diamond, and a diamond is very sharp, and internally we use that, throughout our board we use that, and we can adapt our programing based on what stage they’re in. So if they’re a diamond or an emerald.

Brad Means: Jan what tugged at your heart to make you get involved with the board at Jud C. Hickey? What in your life motivated you to do that?

Jan Wiggins: Well, my mother had Alzheimer’s. And, she lived with us, and we wanted her to be with us. But I worked outside the home, and my husband’s office is in the home and so my mother was with us, and so as she needed some more stimulation during the day, and more care. I began to look around at some different opportunities within Augusta. And was recommend to the Jud C. Hickey center, and went. And after exploring some other facilities, I really felt that right when I walked through the door of the Jud C. Hickey Center, it was right. It was perfect. My mom–

Brad Means: What was it about it? Did you sense any sort of burden being lifted not just from your shoulders, because I’m sure it was, but from hers?

Jan Wiggins: Absolutely my mother was always very active, and fun, and witty, and engaging. And, I wanted her to have the best possible care during the day that she could. And walking into the center had just a very homey feeling, a very welcoming, very nurturing environment. And so right when I walked in, it was immediate. I thought this is perfect

Brad Means: Yeah.

Jan Wiggins: My mom would love this, and, she did.

Brad Means: Jennifer, it’s just as much about the families as the members isn’t it?

Jennifer Pennington: Absolutely. When someones diagnosed, it’s just incredibly scary thing. I mean, it is terrifying, and we see it when the care giver comes in, they may be initiating the call, but the individual that has dementia or Alzheimer’s is terrified as well. They don’t know what to expect. The could think that they’re just being dropped off somewhere, and that’s absolutely not what we are. I mean, we’re very full of life, full of laughter, it could even be seen as like, camp for adults. I mean there’s something going on

Brad Means: Sure.

Jennifer Pennington: All day, throughout the day. And, you know, while we do have a nurse manager, and we do have a staff that are certified nursing assistants, no one wears scrubs, it’s not a clinical environment feeling at all. It’s meant to be very engaging, and meaningful.

Brad Means: Let me look at safety and security, because we do a lot of stories on channel 6 about Alzheimer’s patients wandering. And, so, what do you do at Jud C. Hickey to ensure that that doesn’t happen? Or can you?

Jennifer Pennington: Well, we’re very fortunate that we have an outstanding board of directors that helps us raise funds, which enables us to have a very great staff to member ratio. So we have very committed staff, that’s been working with us for years. They care about our members, just like they would care about their family. We’ve never had an issue with that, and so, I mean we’re just very watchful, and we’re engaged all throughout the day.

Brad Means: Well, I mean, just from driving by the center, the fence looks super tall. It looks like it would be a tough place to wander away from. Is it?

Jennifer Pennington: We do have doors to the exterior

Brad Means: Sure.

Jennifer Pennington: But we do, we just, we’re always present with our members, so.

Jan Wiggins: And within the gates there’s a beautiful garden, and folks can go outside and walk around, or you know, they can enjoy, just the whole environment. So, I don’t think there’s any reason anybody would really want to try and get out.

Brad Means: No, certainly not, certainly not. I know there are a lot of good things going on inside. So tell me about that. What was it like, not only for mom, but through the members that you observe now. Jennifer mentioned, so much is happening in there. Is it just like a typical fun day? And at the end of it they go home to y’all and they’re happy?

Jan Wiggins: Absolutely, absolutely. Which is really the encouraging part for a caregiver. Knowing that when their loved one is in an environment like the Jud C. Hickey Center, they have a full, beautiful, wonderful day. Full of cognitive stimulation, exercise, great nutrition, socialization. My mother, as the ones that are there now made great friends. And the staff are so nurturing, and it’s such a dignified environment that I quickly learned that the folks who work at the Jud C. Hickey Center, loved my mother as much as I did. And that was so important.

Brad Means: They do, I mean–

Jan Wiggins: And they cherished her, and so that’s why it was so easy for me to want to be involved in the Jud C. Hickey Center from a board of Directors perspective, and continue what I know, how it’s positively impacts a family, with their loved one there, just to continue that mission in this community.

Brad Means: Jennifer, does anybody ever feel guilty for dropping a loved one off, to say, man I wish I could handle all this myself, and I feel bad, but I can’t.

Jennifer Pennington: I think that that’s how people feel initially, before they give us a call. When a caregiver calls us, we hear all these emotions. We hear a good, and that’s one, a good bit is guilt. Because I think that you feel as a spouse, or as a child that you are the best person to provide the care, and you are, you are.

Brad Means: Right.

Jennifer Pennington: But you don’t have to do it alone. And when you’re taking over, and you have doctors appointments, and all of the other things that come with caregiving, as well as the things that you do regularly. You might have a job. It can be overwhelming. So things like whether or not your loved one is interacting with their friends, if they’re sitting on the couch watching TV, are they becoming depressed. Those are just added to your plate, and what we can do is help with those things. And I think that, that is always there, that guilt is there. People are upset, they’re angry, they may be facing this alone. They may not be receiving the kind of family support they’d like to get. But I think that once they come to the center, which is what we always say, just come for a tour, bring your loved one. We introduce them to some of the other participants in the program. I think that’s wiped away. They quickly see that there’s no reason they should feel guilt.

Brad Means: Yeah, What a huge relief. What about, two more questions for you all. The first one is, does insurance cover any of the things you described? And the second is, how can we help make up the difference, what do you need at Jud C. Hickey from the community? Either one of you can address that, the money part.

Jennifer Pennington: So I’ll talk, so with long term insurance. If you have long term insurance it does cover it. I know that recently Medicare has offered an option with some of their supplemental plans, for very limited usage. But then there’s also scholarship opportunities. So, we always encourage if you have a hardship, and that you would like to apply for a scholarship we always have that available because we do have an outstanding board of directors that does some incredible fundraising, and that enables to provide that high quality of service.

Jan Wiggins: We are a local non-profit, so all the money that the board works to try to raise in this community, stays right there at the Jud C. Hickey Center to improve our programs and just to extend our mission.

Brad Means: Listen you all do incredible work over there. I know a lot families are grateful to you, and I know that those members are as well, and I appreciate you taking what seemed like the fastest 12 minutes ever, to be with us, and talk about it.

Jan Wiggins: We’re grateful, thank you.

Jennifer Pennington: Well, thank you very much.

Brad Means: Absolutely, Jennifer, Jan, we appreciate you all as well.

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Brad Means

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