When Woodmere resident Debbie Koenig’s mother, Esther, was diagnosed with dementia in 2016, Koenig had to quit her job and become her mother’s full-time caretaker.
For two days a week, she brought her mother to her local community center for a social day care program for adults with dementia. Still, Koenig wanted more time for herself and more specialized care for her mother. That’s when she called the Barry and Florence Friedberg JCC in Oceanside.
Now, Esther has been attending the JCC’s Senior Adult Day Care, which runs three days a week, for about a year. “They’re so professional, and they pay attention to every single person,” Koenig said. “I wish I had known about it in 2016.”
At home, it’s very difficult to get Esther to speak, Koenig lamented. But when she’s at the JCC, Esther engages in conversation, hums along to music, and does word puzzles with her peers.
“This program is a God-send,” Koenig said. “When I come early to pick her up, I see her participating, and she’s able to do [the word puzzles and anagrams], and I’m in complete shock.”
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease visit the JCC for Senior Adult Day Care from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Sept. 8, the JCC will hold a 5K to raise funds for the program.
“It’s very important to keep this program going for people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s,” Koenig said. “We’re discovering that more and more [of the] elderly population is developing dementia and Alzheimer’s, and they are going to be in need of a program like this. It needs to be expanded.”
In addition, Senior Adult Day Care is a drop-off program. The day care begins with a snack and a social activity, such as trivia, word search, “joke time” or some other conversational prompt. Participants gather at long tables that form a square, all facing the middle of the room, to ease communication. Plus, no more than 15 people participate at a time, noted Pamela Jaffe, the program’s director for the past 20 years.
“People with these cognitive disabilities can’t attend more traditional programs at a senior center,” Jaffe said. “They have the need to socialize, to exercise. This [program] normalizes what the disease has taken away and gives respite to their caretakers.”
Senior Adult Day Care continues with light exercising, including yoga, zumba and dance. Then, participants eat lunch and engage in another activity. Each month, organizers set a new schedule that ensures the group is doing different activities every day.
The JCC hosted its first 5K last year to raise funds for Senior Adult Day Care, as well as its adjacent Alzheimer’s caregivers programs. This will be the second year that the JCC holds the event.
“We’d been wanting to do a 5K for the JCC, and we had recently taken over the adult day care program,” said Denise Torre, 5K organizer and general manager of health and fitness at the JCC. “We thought it would be great to benefit Senior Adult Day Care, especially with that population growing so rapidly.”
Previously, Jewish Association Serving the Aging ran and helped fund the adult day care program, and the JCC held the space for it once a week; the other two days, it was at Temple Emmanuel in Long Beach. After Hurricane Sandy, the JCC houses the program for all three days.
Then, when JASA ended its programs on Long Island last year, the JCC took it over completely. It is now partially funded by the NYS Office for the Aging, Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, and UJA Federation.
Last year’s race brought out 125 runners and raised $8,000 for the programs. The money went toward starting an early-Alzheimer’s program and expanding caregiver support groups.
The 5K will begin and end at the JCC, followed by an awards ceremony for those who place. Immediately after, the JCC will hold its annual Open House, where guests can enjoy several activities.
“We’re hoping to get people into the building who have never been or never heard of us,” said Karen Minsky, marketing director for the JCC. She added that new members get 20 percent off a membership when they sign up during the open house.
South Nassau Communities Hospital will sponsor the 5K and offer health screenings at Open House. To learn more and register, visit friedbergjcc.org.