Spirit Of The Season: A Time For Giving, Reflection

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” – Mother Teresa

Giving is the spirit of the season. And, what a wonderful time of year to reflect on the concept of giving. For one local family and woman in particular, giving is at the heart of her soul. Seven years ago, this family’s life was turned upside down. This is when Ann Hellman’s husband and Katie Hellman’s father, Carl Hellman, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease at the young age of 63. What would follow next is a true testament to family and the power of receiving and giving.

Ann, Carl and Katie Hellman of Jamestown, have lived in Chautauqua County their entire lives. Carl was employed by AAA of Jamestown for close to 40 years. Ann and Carl have been married for more than 40 years. Over that time span, they have grown to love the area and all it has to offer.

Seven years ago, Ann and her daughter started noticing some disturbing changes in Carl’s behavior.

“There were times when Carl would forget to place the milk back in the refrigerator or he would not know how to start the lawnmower,” Ann said. “We grew increasingly concerned with these episodes because they were becoming more frequent.”

At that point, Ann, Katie and Carl knew something was wrong and they agreed that testing from a neurologist was the next course of action. After extensive testing at the North Shore Clinic at Hamot Hospital in Erie, Carl’s family received the news that Carl was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s.

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE DEFINED

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder named for German physician Alois Alzheimer, who first diagnosed it in 1906. Today, we know that Alzheimer’s is a progressive and fatal brain disease. As many as 5 million Americans are living with the disease. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies and social life.

Alzheimer’s is a general term for the loss of memory and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. There are an estimated 55,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias living in Western New York. Alzheimer’s currently has no cure, but treatments for symptoms, combined with the right services and support, can make life better for the millions of Americans living with the disease.

LIFE AS A CAREGIVER

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease impacts every aspect of daily life. As Alzheimer’s patients lose abilities one after the other, caregivers face uphill battles of stamina, problem-solving and resiliency. During this never-ending and difficult journey, communication diminishes, rewards decrease, and without strong support, caretakers face challenges to their own physical and mental being.

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease is often a series of grief experiences as you watch memories disappear and skills erode. Initially, this process can go unnoticed until difficulties impact more areas of daily life and the disease can no longer be denied. For both caregivers and their loved ones, this often produces an emotional overload of confusion, anger and sadness. If left unchecked, these feelings can last throughout a caregiver’s long journey.

In Ann’s case, she said, “Chautauqua Adult Day Care has been wonderful for my husband. Additionally, it has given me a break as well.”

Katie added, “Having my father in an adult day care setting not only provided relief for myself as a caregiver, but I am also relieved to know my father is safe and secure and is able to enjoy daily activities and the socialization of others his age.”

There are many support group resources for caregivers in Chautauqua County. For more information, please call 211 to learn more about the available support groups and times for meetings or visit www.alz.org/wny for more information on caregiver classes.

ADVANTAGES OF ADULT DAY CARE

When Carl was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Ann and her family knew there would be a multitude of challenges ahead. Katie is friends with Maggie Irwin from the WNY Alzheimer’s Association who provides caregiver classes to residents of the area.

“When my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I knew my connection to Maggie would be valuable,” Katie said. “She would keep informing me about Chautauqua Adult Day Care and the services they provided. For the longest time, I resisted, because I thought my mother and I could handle Dad’s care. Over time, it became apparent that more help was needed. After an initial visit to their Taft Center location, we knew Chautauqua Adult Day Care would be a wonderful place for my Dad.”

Chautauqua Adult Day Care Centers Inc. is a nonprofit United Way agency, which offers affordable Senior Day Programs for adults 60 years of age and older who live in the community. The agency has four sites that serve all of Chautauqua County. The programs provide socialization and offer many opportunities for older adults to participate in activities during the day.

Chautauqua Adult Day Care’s Present Center is a senior day program in Jamestown for older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. In 1998, the agency was able to receive seed funding from 11 different funders to officially open the Present Center. The center was named after the late Senator Jess Present, who was a supporter of Adult Day Care in Chautauqua County for many years. Day programs such as the Present Center enable older adults to remain at home, help caregivers get a break from caregiving and remain employed. The Present Center provides a long-term care solution for families and is an alternative to placing someone in a nursing home or paying for higher levels of home-based care.

THE SPIRIT OF THE SEASON

Because Chautauqua Adult Day Care has provided so much to the Hellman family, Ann feels compelled to do something to give back. Recently, she collected winter scarves and hats for the participants. She also has been known to bring their Golden Retriever to brighten the participants’ days. You can see the giving nature of Ann whenever she walks in the room. Ann interacts with participants, engages them, and takes a general interest in learning more about them. One would almost think she was a member of the staff.

For more information about Chautauqua Adult Day Care Centers and the Present Center, contact Karen Lucks, associate director, at 665-4899, ext 4 or cadc-inc@windstream.net. Also, be sure to visit CADC on Facebook.