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Family members get a break from caregiving

George Armstrong had a quick reply when asked what he enjoys about the DayAway Club.

"The people," he said without hesitation, then added, "and the people that are the boss here."

Program Coordinator Angie Nadeau, according to Armstrong, is a "very good gal."

The genial, retired postal superintendent has a kind face, eyes that twinkle and a ready smile for the visitor. He and two elderly women, Florence Smith and Marella Ruesink, both of New Richmond, are seated at a round table, using artist brushes and paint to add color to fiberboard cut-outs of a cat.

The DayAway Club meets Mondays and Thursdays at Crossing Point, First Baptist Church's multi-purpose building at the corner of Third and Vine streets in Hudson.

The club is a respite program for adults with memory loss and their caregivers run by the St. Croix County Department on Aging.

Family members bring the participants to Crossing Point at 9:30 a.m. They start the day with coffee, a treat and conversation. Then club members exercise, play games and, during the hour before lunch, work on a handicraft project.

Following lunch (provided by the Hudson Senior Center), the participants usually watch a movie. Then they enjoy more coffee and conversation before family members return to pick them up at 3:30 p.m.

A volunteer is usually there to help Nadeau direct the activities and keep the conversation flowing. As a certified nursing assistant, Nadeau can assist club members with their personal care if they need the help.

"What this program does is help them stay in the community longer because it gives their caregiver a break," said Nancy Sailer, caregiver support coordinator for the Department on Aging.

Armstrong's wife, Andrea, testified to the benefits of the program.

"For myself, it just gives me a break," she said. "And it gives George somebody else to talk to. The people are so nice to him. They treat him just like anybody else. He gets to tell his stories and they get to tell their stores. He likes to go."

Two years ago, at the onset of Armstrong's memory difficulties, he wasn't the happy, outgoing man you see today, Andrea said. She credits the DayAway Club and a change in George's medication with helping him regain his old personality that had been threatened by a form of Alzheimer's disease.

"I think George is a big help to the ladies because he is the way he is," Andrea said. "He's very optimistic and he likes to share."

Armstrong, 75, was stationed in Japan for 33 months while serving as a flight engineer in the Air Force during the Korean War.

Upon returning to civilian life, he went to work for the U.S. Postal Service and was the longtime superintendent of maintenance at the St. Paul Post Office. He and Andrea moved to a hobby farm on Hwy. 29 outside of River Falls in 1974.

They returned to River Falls in 2002 to be near their children and grandchildren after living on Table Lake near Spooner for 11 years.

Armstrong beams when talking about his four children and six grandchildren.

"It's too bad there aren't more people taking part in it," Andrea Armstrong said of the club.

George and the two women were the only participants on a recent Thursday.

Sailer said the average attendance had been five or six, but two former participants recently went to the nursing home and no one has taken their places as of yet.

The program can accommodate up to a dozen participants.

"We encourage people, if they're not sure (about the program), to come and visit. Try a day and see how it works," Sailer said.

A contribution of $30 per day is requested, but Sailer said financial assistance is available through the state Alzheimer's Family Caregivers Support Program for families that can't afford to pay that much.

The program coordinators also are seeking more volunteer helpers, particularly on Thursdays. The goal is to keep a staff-to-participant ratio of 1:2 or 1:3.

"Volunteers are really an integral part of the program," said Sailer. "They help keep the conversation going."

First Baptist Church provides the meeting place for the DayAway Club free of charge.

"They are so generous to us," an appreciative Sailer said of the congregation. "They give us that space, and beyond that even, the church supports us financially."

She added that First Baptist Pastor Randy Fredrikson promotes the program, and several volunteer helpers have come from the church.

A program brochure claims that DayAway Club participants "often return home in a good mood, sleep better and maintain cognitive and physical functioning longer. The activities in this social model may delay nursing home placement."

The Department on Aging conducts an in-home assessment of participants before they attend a session of the DayAway Club. Those in early to middle stages of dementia are invited to participate.

For more information on enrolling a family member in the DayAway Club, or serving as a volunteer, call the Department on Aging at 381-4360 or 1-800-372-2333.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

(715) 426-1066