When the Forsyth County Senior Services Sunshine Club meets, everyone there expects a good time.
Leading this Alzheimer’s Respite Care program is Laura Bagwell, who draws help from some 25 senior volunteers to get the party started for club participants, who all have mild to moderate dementia.
No volunteer is more dependable than 76-year-old Florence Korom. This quiet, dignified widow consistently logs six- or seven-hour days for four days a week with the Sunshine Club, and has kept up this schedule for more than a decade.
As the club’s unofficial “class clown,” Korom is known for wearing crazy hats and costumes to celebrate holidays and planned activities, such as games and sing-a-longs.
One recent afternoon, she pulled up a chair to join in the singing of oldies such as “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” Such a sad song, everyone agreed before lustily belting out the chorus, “Bring back, bring back, bring back my Bonnie to me, to me.”
Korom gave a firm sway on every “bring back,” which prompted smiles across the table. Later, they might not even remember singing the song. But as they performed it, no one needed sheet music to recall the words.
Live in the moment. It doesn’t matter if people with dementia don’t remember the good times once they get home. Just have fun now, Korom said.
Bagwell agreed. “We try to make it as fun as possible. It’s a party every day,” Bagwell said.
Korom and her late husband began volunteering with the Sunshine Club when the respite program started 15 years ago. When her husband died a few years later, Korom had to step away from her volunteer duties for a while.
But she returned quickly and expanded her services as the program grew. The Forsyth County great-grandmother also delivers hot meals through the senior services Meals on Wheels program. Her routine Monday route has her driving into the northern end of the county, dropping off food and chatting with familiar faces.
Recently, Korom’s volunteerism was recognized as she was given the 2013 Profiles of Positive Aging Image Award by LeadingAge Georgia, formerly Aging Services of Georgia. She was one of 17 seniors statewide to be honored for making a difference and exemplifying a lifestyle of positive aging.
“When you’re helping someone else you get more out of life than you would just sitting at home,” said Korom, who added that it makes her feel good too.
Korom had no previous first-hand knowledge about Alzheimer’s, and never had been around anyone with that type of neurological degenerative disease. Bagwell said Korom communicates well with dementia clients and encourages them to contribute to conversations and activities. She patiently tends to their needs, and notices when they seem more confused than usual or seem to be having a bad day.
“I try to treat them the way I would want to be treated — with kindness,” Korom said. “I do not want to take away their dignity. It’s hard when we lose them.”
Losing them usually means the Alzheimer’s condition has deteriorated to where they can no longer feed themselves or participate in activities — which means they must stop coming to the Sunshine Club. The program is designed to give respite time for both client and caregiver, but it doesn’t take care of other needs as the disease progresses.
The Forsyth County program meets five days a week and currently has 17 clients.
Want to know more?
- LeadingAge Georgia, formerly called Aging Services of Georgia, represents not-for-profits and mission organizations that provide services for seniors.
- Profiles of Positive Aging Image Award is given annually to Georgia senior citizens who are making a difference and exemplifying a positive aging lifestyle.
- Alzheimer’s respite care provides caregivers a temporary rest, while providing a safe environment for the Alzheimer’s patient. Those interested in seeking respite care for Alzheimer’s or dementia should contact the Alzheimer’s Association through their Web address: www.alz.org.