The team huddles, gathering strength for the battle ahead. They face no ordinary opponent today, but then again, they are no ordinary players. They are residents of Brookdale Senior Living Solutions; the opponent is their own failing memory.
At the Golden Corner Respite Care program in Seneca, Clemson doctoral student Caitlin Torrence sat next to a woman with Alzheimer’s who rarely spoke. Torrence began humming Christmas music, and for the first time, she heard the woman’s voice as she sang the words to the song.
Torrence and Clemson’s Institute for Engaged Aging director Cheryl Dye are hoping for this same kind of success in a new dementia care program they started in September in Central.
Dye co-authored a $48,500 grant proposal with Pickens County Meals on Wheels that was funded by the S.C. Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging Improvement Grant to reopen the Central Community Center, where services had not been offered since 2014. Thanks to a $20,000 Alzheimer’s Resource Coordination Center grant, the program known as the Brain Health Club has the necessary start-up funding.
“Through this partnership with Pickens County Meals on Wheels, IEA and the Town of Central, there will now be a place where seniors in the area can go for meals, exercise classes and dementia care,” Dye said.
The new program in Central will address the needs of local residents living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. In Pickens County, there are approximately two thousand people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, according to the South Carolina Alzheimer’s Disease Registry. Dye said there is a need for more senior care as the aging population grows due to the aging baby boomer generation and the expected rise of dementia and Alzheimer’s diagnoses.
Tom Cloer, Central’s assistant town manager and long-time advocate for senior services, said he’s excited to see people using the building, which has been renovated with a new HVAC system and roof, as well as additional upgrades.
“We’re glad we’re able to be a part of this partnership and fill this gap in services,” Cloer said. “This is something the Town of Central couldn’t do on its own. This partnership is able to fill the need for senior services.”
This program consists of research-based activities to promote brain health and combat the symptoms of dementia, which can make seniors feel isolated, Torrence said. These activities include music therapy, arts and crafts, best-practice therapeutic cognitive exercises from the Alzheimer’s Association along with language recall and exercise.
“We want to give them a space where they can feel safe and still experience life and joy and do things that are meaningful, and cognitively stimulating,” Torrence said. “Just because you have a disease, doesn’t mean your life is over.”
The program also serves as a Creative Inquiry class for Clemson students. Since fall 2014, students have worked with IEA faculty and doctoral students to deliver dementia care program at the Greenville Health System Center for Success in Aging, two churches in Seneca and a local retirement community. Now the dementia program has a permanent home at the Central Community Center.
“This is one way IEA is addressing older adult needs while also advancing faculty and doctoral student research as well as the undergraduate educational experience,” Dye said.
Students lead residents in a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”
The students research various ways to provide compassionate care and develop the activities for the program. At the center in Central, Torrence is training and supervising the students during the program two afternoons a week.
Dye knows this training to work with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients is important for students who wish to be health care professionals as the aging population grows and health care systems need dementia-capable health care providers.
This training is something that senior health sciences major Hailey Malphrus values in the class, and is something she did not expect to love.
“Getting to know the participants and help them was rewarding and honoring,” Malphrus said. “I love the prevention and intervention phases of medicine. It’s been my favorite thing I’ve done at Clemson. The research skills I’ve gained are giving me the chance to benefit someone now, not only after I graduate.”
Working at Golden Corner Respite Care, a program also started by Dye’s class, was Malphrus’ first experience applying what she learned in the classroom. One of her favorite parts of the class last year was playing the songs on the piano and hearing the participants sing along. This semester, Malphrus is looking forward to working with the participants in the new program and watching their progress.
“It’s easy to focus on what dementia and Alzheimer’s patients have lost, not what they still have,” Malphrus said. “This program is empowering for them.”
However, the Central program won’t benefit only those with dementia, but also the caregivers who get a break from their demanding role and are able to participate in caregiving education classes.
Pickens County Meals on Wheels director Meta Bowers said it’s important for caregivers to take a break because “the toll that it takes to care for someone is often the price of their health, and caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is a full-time job.”
In addition to the IEA Brain Health Club, the building will also house after school programs for the Town of Central and serve as a satellite campus to the Meals on Wheels McKissick Senior Wellness Center located in Liberty. Bowers said this is a state-wide model for senior resources.
“On a global sense with the Institute for Engaged Aging, I think the partnership with Pickens County Meals on Wheels is a wonderful fit,” Bowers said. “It harnesses the resources of two institutions. Cheryl’s use of the students and their knowledge makes the program a living lab giving people a real-world experience and providing quality care.”
For more information about the Brain Health Club program, contact Caitlin Torrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 864-387-9187.