No one understands more the need for family caregivers to have time off than Julie Smith, director of the Aspen Senior Day Care Center.
For 11 years, Smith and Gary Staples, owner and administrator, have been caring for individuals who have mild to moderate dementia or some other health concern where they need help to have better life experiences.
“The Aspen Senior Daycare Center provides a wonderful program and activities to help my mother keep busy and be attentive,” said Jamie Schwarts, a family care provider.
Aspen is the only senior daycare in Utah County and provides seven hours a day of activities, exercise, meals and more.
Smith said the center provides a very set daily schedule and it’s very detailed, but consistent.
While the state requirements say you must have one aide per eight clients, Smith said that is too much. So, each one of their aides helps no more than four clients during the day.
Many of the activities could be directed to one person’s interests. For instance, a man who loved and taught golf in his earlier years, now keeps his putting skills going by using the center’s putting green.
“One lady loves to hunt and fish,” Smith said. “That is all she talks about. So we talked about fishing.”
This week one of the learning segments will be talking about favorite things. Smith said they are very careful not to talk about things that might upset clients.
For instance, they would not talk about Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh’s death because it causes clients to worry or stress about people they may know, or sometimes themselves about passing away.
“On Veterans Day, we broke it down to avoid stress and anxiety,” Smith said. “We just did a chapter on rationing and the women talked about rationing their nylons.”
While most clients have short-term memory loss, they have great long-term memory, according to Smith. The music time plays into those memories a lot.
“Some clients can sing when they can’t talk,” Smith said. “Art speaks to them as well.”
Some of the memory games include listing 10 kinds of a thing such as 10 kinds of pie, or 10 things you take to the beach. They also talk about the history of things.
It’s all about keeping their minds and bodies working and not just putting grandma or grandpa in front of a TV.
“It’s a fantastic place for folks with dementia,” said Hyde Merrill. “They have constant games, activities, parties and crafts. My wife comes out smiling every day.”
Smith said it’s not unusual to have couples come. Many times the husband and wife are aging at the same time and with some of the same memory problems and it’s hard for one to take care of the other.
While a senior daycare is unusual in this area, Smith said there are many all over the country. Prior to COVID-19, the center had about 30 clients. That dropped substantially when they had to close for two months.
Smith said some of their best months have been after they were able to reopen from COVID, particularly through May to December.
“My grandpa attended Aspen for several years after having his first stroke and suffering from dementia,” said Carson Ruiz. “He absolutely cherished going there and has told me so many memories he had about being there. I truly believe that it was a big thing in his life and it left a huge positive impact on him.”
Many spouses work and Aspen is a great option for caregivers to have a place to take their loved one, according to Smith.
How do you know if your family member is in dementia? Smith offers this test.
“In the event of an emergency, can they solve a problem like if there is a water leak or a fire?” Smith said. “Many of our clients don’t know where they are and need full-time care.
“We’re the service between home and assisted living,” Smith said.
To make sure they are doing all they can to keep their clients healthy, they have curbside check in and take the clients’ temperatures every day. The bathrooms are sanitized after every use.
There also is a prep time to get a client ready to go home. They are given a meal around 3:15 p.m. so they don’t go home hungry, according to Smith, and toilet routines are taken care of so family members don’t have to worry about it.
“Many of our clients are using walkers or wheelchairs or need assistance walking,” Smith said. “Many of our exercises are ‘sit and dance’ moves. Our clients get two hours of exercise every day.”
Each day, Aspen offers physical fitness, socialization, cognitive thinking activities and nutrition. While Aspen can’t help everyone, Smith said she is looking forward to helping new clients and their care providers both find a change in their daily lives.
Aspen Senior Daycare Center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. They are located at 3410 N. Canyon Road in Provo. For information, visit the company’s website at http://aspenseniorcenter.org.