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Walnut Creek Journal Article
Thursday, June 9, 2005
"Respite Center fills a niche for seniors" By Janice De Jesus
Danville - The responses came as quick as the questions were fired.
"What will I buy at the old ball game?"
"Peanuts and Cracker Jack."
"Time heals all what?"
"What singer or actor is back in the saddle again?"
This is a typical morning session at the Valley Oak Respite Center in Danville, an adult day care center that has
provided services for seniors who are frail, afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, related dementias and physical
disabilities since 1987.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, program director Carmen McCarthy leads a group of about a dozen seniors
through memory enhancement exercises by asking trivia questions in such categories as Famous Nicknames and Old Proverbs.
On a recent day, seniors answer questions in unison almost as soon as they are asked. "You guys are good," McCarthy
said. "You don't even wait for me to finish."
One of the participants, Tom DeHerrera, answers most of the questions correctly before the others chime in.
"We ought to send him to Jeopardy," said Molly Renalds, 81, a center volunteer.
DeHerrera said a stroke he suffered in 2001 may affected his body, but not his memory.
"It's mind stimulating. They ask questions about all kinds of topics," said DeHerrera, 67, who lives in Lafayette.
"All this is stuff I've known for years."
After memory enhancement exercises, the seniors sing classic songs of the 1920s such as "My Buddy" and "That Old Gang of
Mine" as their lunch is served.
"These are all songs they grew up with that they enjoy and remember," Renalds said.
Memory enhancement exercises are an example of the community needs filled by Valley Oak Respite Center, which is a
program of the Diablo Valley Foundation for the Aging.
Not only does the center give seniors with some form of dementia or physical disabilities a chance to exercise their
minds and their bodies, it also gives their caregivers some time for themselves, McCarthy said.
"Places like this give seniors an opportunity to stay home a little longer before they go to a nursing home," she said.
The Valley Oak Respite Center, which uses the social hall of the Danville Congregational Church, holds its programs from
10:30 to 2:30p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Participants pay $25 per session and come when they can. Besides
the memory-enhancement exercises, the seniors watch classic movies, sing songs and do gentle exercises that help with
balance and mobility.
Dorothy Charroin, 84, said she was reluctant at first to attend the program because she was afraid to take the bus. "I
didn't want to go out at all. I had a small stroke two years ago and it affected my short-term memory," Charroin said.
"But as soon as I went, I liked the people. They make you feel somebody cares about you."
The memory exercises makes her feel good about herself, Charroin said. "I could be talking and then all of a sudden, I
lose my train of thought and have to start over again," she said. "I try to push myself to answer questions because I
know that it's good for me."
She also said attending the programs gives her daughter, who's her caregiver, a much needed break.
"I have to take a lot of pills and a lot of things need to be done," Charroin said. "I know it was frustrating for her
- she wanted to help me so bad. But now, she's taking golf lessons and all kinds of activities she didn't have time for
Hazel Lang, 78, of Walnut Creek, attends the program mainly for social reasons. Since she only attends once a week, she
said she makes sure she puts on a nice outfit with matching jewelry.
"It's such a nice occasion for me to get out of the house," Lang said. "Getting together and talking with people takes
care of the loneliness since my husband died three years ago."
After shuttling her father from one program to another and when assisted-living arrangements became unbearable, Renee
Denver White took her father in to live with her. But the stress of taking care of a parent with dementia began to take
its tolls on her. She tried taking him to senior centers, but it wasn't the right fit for him.
"Everywhere I turned, there was no place for him to go for entertainment," Denver White said.
At the respite center, "Dad fit right in," she said. "Within an hour, I was able to leave him and he was delighted to
"Their approach is, 'Everyone is doing the same thing at the same time.' So no one is left out and no one is worried
what they're supposed to be doing," Denver White said.
Finding the center was a relief for both her and her father, she said. "If you don't keep your spirits up, if you don't
take care of yourself, there's going to be nobody to take care of your loved one," she said. "Keep caregivers
functioning in a healthy way so that the loved one will get to stay at home longer."
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