When George Cardinet of Winters realized his wife, Claudia, was slipping into the shadows of Alzheimer’s disease, he vowed to do whatever he could to keep his partner of 58 years connected and engaged.
But, as many others have discovered, finding enough activities to fill her days became more than he could handle on his own.
He found an ally in Sandy Perez, program manager for NorthBay Adult Day Center in Vaca-ville. After more than two decades of caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Sandy knows how difficult it can be for family members to watch loved ones slip away. She has become a resource and sounding board for the Cardinets as they travel this journey.
“Alzheimer’s patients not only lose their memories, but they also lose a lot of other things,” Sandy said. “Because it’s a disease of the brain, their personality will change, the way they walk and carry themselves can change, and adjusting to these changes can be very hard. I try to help George and the other family members of our clients to prepare for what may be ahead.”
George recalled that Claudia’s journey started out gradually. “Initially, she began having problems recognizing her environment, familiar landmarks, that kind of thing. She would get lost coming home. So,” he said softly, “she stopped driving.”
And, over time, the life-long animal and nature lover also stopped caring for her many cats. She lost interest in bird watching and no longer baked her famously delicious pies or Christmas cookies. She gave up reading books and newspapers, enjoying her children and grandchildren, and life in her rural home. Her initiative to do all things was gone.
As Claudia began losing interest in her hobbies, her family and her world, George, a retired UC Davis professor, worked to keep her connected and engaged. “I was uneducated about Alzheimer’s disease, but knew I didn’t want her to just sit. So, I tried to do what I could to keep her occupied and entertained. Her quality of life would otherwise be lost.”
He first took her to a half-day respite program in Woodland, a 45-minute drive away, but by the time he got home, it was time to turn around and pick her up again. Staff there recommended he talk to Sandy at the NorthBay Adult Day Center, and that’s when their partnership began, more than two years ago.
George appreciates the fact that Sandy and her staff of activity aids have become his eyes and ears for the times when he can’t be with his wife. “Sandy will call me if she notices something going on with Claudia,” he said, “if she is out of sorts or not feeling well. They are like a bunch of mother hens there.
“I’ve been so impressed with the quality of the program—there is something going on every hour—and Sandy does a crackerjack job of running everything,” he added. “Claudia’s life is greatly enhanced by her participation in the program and her interaction with the staff. She loves going there.”
“At first Claudia was coming for full days, but we realized it was just wearing her out, so we worked together to adjust her schedule,” Sandy explained. “We try to keep an even keel through the changes.” George is grateful for Sandy’s sensitivity and wise counsel. “She has a sense of how things are going and adjusts Claudia’s care as needed.”
This connection became even more important to George about a year and a half ago, when Claudia moved from their Winters home to a residential Alzheimer’s facility in Vacaville. Although there are plenty of activities there, George wanted Claudia to continue attending the NorthBay Adult Day Center. “The Vacaville City Coach picks her up at 8:30 a.m., and brings her back at the 2 p.m. break,” George explained. “I know staff is expecting her; they fill her day with activities, and take very good care of her. They do exercises, art projects, and have very good entertainment.”
George visits Claudia at the Alzheimer facility two to three times a week, and the Adult Day Center a couple of times a month, especially on the days when a volunteer pianist performs.
“He’s really good, and everyone enjoys singing along to all the old songs,” George said. The couple also has a standing weekend date to go to McDonald’s, and then to the Vacaville SPCA shelter to visit their daughter, Colette, who volunteers there.
“Claudia today is not the Claudia who lived at home with George. We’ve been helping him to understand her changes and how he can be an advocate for her when he takes her to the doctor, or has interactions with others. During the past two years, we’ve been able to cultivate quite a friendship with George,” Sandy said.
“As a resource to the community, the NorthBay Adult Day Center is unparalleled,” George added. “These caregivers are a special lot.”
For more information about the NorthBay Adult Day Center, call (707) 624-7970.