Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Live Oak Adult Day Services provided an oasis for seniors with dementia and their exhausted caregivers.
For a few hours a week, seniors went to one of four Santa Clara County’s facilities for games, meals, music, art therapy, gentle exercises, and conversation. The thriving nonprofit organization served approximately 125 customers, including a retired nuclear physicist, dentist, church organist, an Air Force pilot, and many veterans and immigrants who fled Europe after World War II.
But the pandemic shut down Live Oak during the darkest days of the crisis. Caregivers and their relatives had only a few points of contact.
“It was a huge challenge,” said Junelle Blandford, program director at Live Oak’s Willow Glenn Center. “Complete isolation. It was a challenge both physically and mentally. “
Live Oak has adapted to the new world of Zoom, bringing video programs and therapies to the homes of its clients, who average age 87. But their reach diminished – only 25 of their senior customers had internet access and powerful technology to follow them.
As the pandemic threat has receded, Live Oak has tried to rebuild its services and staff.
The agency recently reopened its facilities in San Jose, Cupertino, and Gilroy, a welcome change for family members caring for their frail loved ones. But Live Oak has lost several employees to retirement and other jobs during the health crisis and is seeking help in attracting workers and increasing the pay for its younger workers. It was unable to recruit enough workers to reopen its Los Gatos center.
They are asking the community for at least $ 20,000 through Wish Book to support their often overlooked mission. “We need to hire more staff,” said managing director Ann Peterson.
Live Oak was founded in 1983 to provide services and support to seniors with dementia. The agency would like to continue its online program for seniors and families who are still concerned about COVID safety. Although the minimum age is 60, Peterson said, “We take everyone as long as they can benefit from our programs.”
The way through the pandemic was difficult, she said. They closed their facilities as soon as the state imposed emergency measures in March 2020. “We were kind of in shock,” she said.
They put together virtual programs. Social workers conducted word and board games through video conferencing. They sent packages of art supplies to customers and ran art therapy classes online. Community groups played music, read short stories, and performed online singalongs.
But reaching only 1 in 5 of their customers during the pandemic meant reopening as quickly and safely as possible was vital.
About half of the seniors have returned since Live Oak reopened in May, and the changes over the past few months have been noticeable. “They are much more open to discussion,” said Blandford. “The mere opportunity to get into another room, another environment, perked them up.”
Full-time care for an older spouse with dementia or the aftermath of a stroke can be a stressful, tiring, and private journey.
Day care centers are often one of the few lifelines that allow seniors to stay at home instead of moving to assisted living or memory care facilities. The few hours of free time per week allow the supervisors to work, shop, do housework, do bills or just relax.
Mary Moran, 78, is the sole carer for her husband Dennis. The couple lives in San Jose and both taught art in public schools for several decades. In the late 1970s, Dennis Moran opened a stall at the fair and drew caricatures for fairground visitors for nearly 20 years.
He began struggling with mild dementia in 2007 and was officially diagnosed five years ago. Dennis, 82, needs constant supervision, said his wife. His forays through the tool shed in the backyard and attempts to start a project ended with seven trips to the emergency room.
“I have to be very vigilant,” said Mary. Most of the power tools are gone now.
Covid home precautions and daily care requirements meant something had to give way. Mary discovered Live Oak shortly after it reopened in May. The couple liked the historic complex in Willow Glen: The spacious house in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright was built in 1913 for the former mayor of Willow Glen, Paul Clark.
Mary takes her husband there three times a week. He’s warmed up for activities and has started drawing for the other clients. You like his work.
“Without Live Oak, I would have been to the fun farm or would have collapsed,” she said. “It made it possible to keep my husband at home.”
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
The Wish Book is an annual series from The Mercury News that invites readers to help their neighbors.
Donations are used for general operating expenses of Live Oak Adult Day Services, including staff, food, and supplies. Goal: $ 20,000.
HOW TO GIVE
Donate at wishbook.mercurynews.com or send in the coupon by post.
Read other Wish Book stories, view photos and videos at wishbook.mercurynews.com.