Families of people with Alzheimer's disease find emotional and practical support at Golden Horizons

As the brisk November winds usher in the anticipation of the holiday season, it is easy for the month itself to be overshadowed by festive hustle and bustle.

However, for Stacy McIntyre, November holds a different meaning.

In 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan designated November as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is a progressive brain disorder that affects memory, behavior, and speech as well as the ability to perform simple tasks.

Estimates are that 380,000 people in Michigan are the unpaid caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s.In October 1988, five years after Reagan pushed Alzheimer’s disease into the public consciousness, McIntyre began Golden Horizons Adult Day Center.

The program provides support and care for those affected by cognitive impairment as well as their caregivers. Located at 1001 Marsac St. in Bay City and open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Golden Horizons allows caregivers to go to work, run errands, and manage the household, knowing their loved one is taken care of and safe.

Members gather inside the Marsac Street building for activities and games during the day.Supported primarily by The Aging Network, a program within Region 7 Area Agency on Aging, and in collaboration with the United Way of Bay County, as well as assistance from a yearly respite grant, Golden Horizons provides affordable daily care for seniors and their families.

The hourly rate is $9.50, though for those eligible for financial assistance, the cost can be as low as $1.50.

Stacy McIntyre opened Golden Horizons Adult Day Center in 1988.Every day the schedule is fresh with new activities within a familiar and structured framework.

Activities last 30 minutes each, ensuring everyone stays engaged and interested. The activities include seated exercises, discussion groups, word games, and music. Other activities the staff have modified to accommodate participants are football, basketball, baseball, as well as board games such as Yahtzee and Uno.

The staff encourages each participant to walk at least once an hour, promoting movement.

“We know because of research that any individual with any kind of neurological condition has to be active,” says McIntyre. “When they’re at home spending most of their day napping or in front of the television, they’re not really getting any stimulation. That’s detrimental.”

When McIntyre began the program 35 years ago, false beliefs swirling around Alzheimer’s caused social stigmatization for those encumbered by the disease. Some thought it to be contagious. Others saw it as a form of divine punishment. Many believed it could be contracted from aluminum found in cooking pots, pans, and some deodorants.

According to Michigan Alzheimer’s statistics of 2023,190,000 people 65 and older are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Michigan.In Bay County, though, at least person besides McIntyre looked beyond the fearful rumors and saw a population in need.

Peggy Condon-Watson, Executive Director of the Bay County Child and Senior Citizen Center, approached Bay County about creating a dining center for both seniors and children enrolled in day care.

Fremont the Cat gazes out the door of Golden Horizons.She had a vision for a foster-grandparent program. McIntyre and Condon-Watson expected the older adults to interact with the children and help them with the games and activities.

They quickly realized the older adults were more interested in participating in the activities themselves than in being foster grandparents.

After recognizing the wants and needs of the older adults and their caregivers, McIntyre went to work writing a proposal for a five-year grant offered through the state.

As dementia disorders gained public awareness, the state provided funding for six pilot programs in Michigan, Golden Horizons Adult Day Center being one of them.

McIntyre was working at a nursing home as the Director of Activities and Staff Social Worker when she received the news her grant proposal was approved.

“When the grant was funded, I was really excited,” says McIntyre.

In addition to care, Golden Horizons provides educational opportunities and support groups to help families caring for their loved ones.McIntyre wanted this program to serve two purposes: to provide stimulation and activity for the person with cognitive impairment, and to provide respite and support for the caregiver.

“It’s a win-win for both the caregiver and the person affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s,” says McIntyre. “The caregivers need to take care of themselves, this benefits them and their family members.”

According to Michigan Alzheimer’s statistics of 2023, 190,000 people aged 65 and older are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Michigan. An additional 380,000 people are the unpaid caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s. Unpaid caregivers are oftentimes spouses, adult children, or other family members. These caregivers take over the responsibilities of their loved ones while learning to navigate the unfamiliar waters of eldercare.

Supported primarily by The Aging Network, a program within Region 7 Area Agency on Aging, and in collaboration with the United Way of Bay County, as well as assistance from a yearly respite grant, Golden Horizons provides affordable daily care.“There are a lot of challenges with people with memory impairment,” says McIntyre. “Family members can become very overwhelmed.”

Caring for a loved one can be daunting, and it is often difficult to know where to begin. McIntyre and the staff at Golden Horizons Senior Day Center have a surplus of information readily available for anyone who may need services beyond what they provide.

Studies show that movement and activity help combat Alzheimer's disease.Education and awareness are also at the forefront of the program.

A monthly educational class is offered with rotating topics ranging from an Alzheimer’s overview to effectively managing difficult behaviors.

A caregiver support group meets every second Tuesday of the month.

Everyone is welcome to attend the classes and support groups. For more information, visit the Facebook page or call Golden Horizons Senior Day Center at 989-892-6644.
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