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In Good Hands : Day Care Offers Hope for Alzheimer's Patients, Families

September 23, 1993|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — When Marilyn McCumber, a Glendale attorney, learned 18 months ago that the day-care center where she took her elderly mother was about to close because of financial problems, she bought the operation.

The program rents space in the Presbyterian Church of Glendale where 76-year-old Millie McCumber, who has Alzheimer's disease, and a dozen other mentally impaired adults receive daily therapy.

"I don't take a cent out of the corporation," said McCumber, who was commended this month by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for her action. "I make plenty of money on my own as a lawyer."

The previous owners--two doctors working in partnership--were reportedly losing thousands of dollars a month on the operation.

McCumber said she moved the center from high-rent facilities in a Glendale strip shopping mall to two rooms on the second floor of the church at 125 S. Louise Ave. She furnished the facility with tables, sofas and chairs bought at yard sales.

McCumber negotiated with local charity groups--including the Salvation Army--to obtain low-cost hot lunches, which are served daily, along with morning and afternoon snacks. Outings for clients are planned around free tickets that McCumber scrounges up for theater productions, movies, the zoo and anywhere else senior citizens are admitted without charge.

"If it wasn't for Marilyn, we wouldn't have a daycare center," said Samuel Araujo, 31, who administers the program with the help of two assistants.

McCumber declines to say how much money she has invested in the operation, which has expenses that include maintaining a seven-passenger van that is used for picking up and dropping off clients and traveling to outings.

"This is a labor of love for my mother," McCumber said, straddling boxes of documents and paperwork for the center stacked beneath her desk in her legal office in The Exchange on Brand Boulevard. "I'm not in this for the money."

McCumber frequently shifts between her professional duties and activities at the center. She said the structured environment at the center gives her peace of mind that her mother is safe and cared for while the lawyer maintains her career.

Most of the center's clients, who are 55 to 101, suffer from Alzheimer's, a progressive brain disease that is the fourth leading cause of death among older Americans following heart disease, stroke and cancer. An estimated 4 million people nationwide suffer from the irreversible disease and about 100,000 die each year, according to the Alzheimer's Assn., a national nonprofit organization with a chapter in Los Angeles.

There are more than 117,500 documented cases of Alzheimer's in Los Angeles County, said Judy Wunsch, volunteer coordinator and a director of the Los Angeles chapter. Only about 50 centers countywide provide day care for victims of the disease.

While limited amounts of federal and state funding are available to help some victims of Alzheimer's who suffer from stroke or other complications, 90% of the economic cost of care is placed on families, Wunsch said, amounting to more than $10 billion a year in California.

The Glendale center operates without federal and state assistance. The cost to clients is $40 to $50 a day, depending on how many days a week a client participates. McCumber said the Glendale program is designed to give families of victims an alternative to the expense of a nursing home or individual home health care.

McCumber said the program can often help relieve the pressure on family members, particularly those who are attempting to care for an Alzheimer's patient while continuing to work.

Clients at the Glendale center are given a daily regimen of games, conversation, entertainment and exercise designed to keep them mentally and physically stimulated despite the debilitating effects of the disease on memory, body function and behavior.

On a recent visit, participants laughed and joked with one another as they played indoor bowling, basketball and other games and danced to familiar tunes, such as "Your Heart Beats For Me." The program is designed "to exercise the memory," Araujo said.

The number of clients at the center is small, McCumber said, because most people do not know it exists.

The Glendale center is licensed by the state to care for 49 adults daily and offers one of the most comprehensive schedules--from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays--of any in the county.

Most adult day-care programs offer only limited hours of activities designed to give family members some relief from their duties. Costs range from as little as $10 a day, for some funded programs, to $70 daily.

McCumber's program is the only one in Glendale, but there are other facilities in Pasadena, North Hollywood and Van Nuys. The Alzheimer's Assn. provides listings of services.

Wunsch said the Glendale program is unusual because it allows family members of clients to maintain a work schedule.

"We want people to know that they don't have to run out and put their loved one in a nursing home," McCumber said.

The greatest toll of Alzheimer's, authorities agree, is on family members and other care-givers who must cope with the sufferer's loss of memory, confusion and oftentimes seemingly obstinate and violent behavior.

McCumber said she was frustrated and nearly on the verge of abusing her mother before she learned that her mother's behavior stemmed from Alzheimer's.

"I didn't believe that my mother could not do such simple things, like take a bath or turn on the stove," she said.

Dr. James Goethel, 65, of Glendale, a Los Angeles plastic surgeon whose 63-year-old wife has Alzheimer's, said he was unable to keep a home health-care worker because of his wife's combativeness. Goethel was referred in March to the Glendale day-care program, which he said "is just wonderful. It allows me to continue to function."

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