One of her members leaves the house in the morning to go to work. Another one goes to the club. And another one to a social gathering. They all end up in the same location – where they play bingo, dance, feed the 17 year old blue jay or read the paper to him, garden, talk …. under the watchful eye of “big chief” Lauren Greenwade. She is the manager of the Williamson County Adult Day Center AGE of Central Texas, a program for people with Dementia and cognitively or physically frail older adults. These, the so called members, live at home with their loved ones, get up and dressed in the morning and take the bus to their “day home”.
“This allows the families to keep their loved ones at home, without having to completely give up their lives to care for them”, says Greenwade. “Some caretakers – wives or other family members – still go to work every day; others use the free time to run errands or enjoy some time to themselves.” They don’t have to make the choice between caring for their loved ones full-time (and often forgetting to care about themselves) or having them live in a full-time facility.
“Did you know that 75 percent of the care givers (for example spouses) of people with Dementia die before them? Because they don’t care about and for themselves. They don’t have the time!”, the AGE manager explains. AGE gives them some of their time back. They have their loved ones at home at night and during the weekends and send them to AGE in the morning.
There, they meet their “day family”, who they spend the hours of a workday with. There, they are not only entertained, but loved as in a big happy family.
“Here, friendships are made between people who would have never crossed the street together”, Greenwade says. “Their circle of people has been expanded and there are no prejudices anymore.”
And some members even have little romances. With a smile, “big chief” tells the story of a cute couple amongst her members. Only problem: he is married. But he forgets about that. And besides loving his wife of decades, he loves his day wife. Out of respect for the marriage, the AGE stuff separated the man and his romance on the morning bus ride. Greenwade remembers: “He was so mad that he said ‘I’m never going back there!’” They talked to his wife and his daughter and after some consideration he came back. His wife was thankful: “Thank you for letting him come back. I’m so grateful for his life here.”
It is hard for the family members to see their loved ones change into a different person due to illness, Greenwade says.
“One of the wives once told me ‘I am married to a six year old! But he is my husband. He is supposed to take care of me.” It is a strain for the family members. They lost their loved one and take care of a new person, Greenwade says. And Greenwade doesn’t only care for her members, she also cares for their family and is there for them.
“You need to be a good listener to work at AGE”, the big chief explains. “I get to hug and cry with the care givers (family) and then I go out and laugh with the members.“
Greenwade and her team of 8 staff members and countless volunteers entertain their members from 7 to 5.30. The youngest member is 39 years old, the oldest 96. Their favorite activity is dancing. They have parties and they love having visitors. But they also have their daily routines – just like any family.
“We are our own little world. What I love so much about this place is that it is homey.”
The members are happy and their loved ones enjoy seeing them happy.
“We make sure they have the best day in their life. Every day.”