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Dahl Adult Day family member believes center extended her husband's life

posted on Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sara Harless with Dahl Adult Day director Maria Jordan

When her husband was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 53, Sara Harless of West Des Moines began thinking simply in terms of coping -- of anticipating bleak days spent watching her healthy, vital spouse decline into someone she would no longer know. 

She couldn't have anticipated that she'd spend the next several years watching him not only survive, but thrive in an environment that would make the most of his days. 

"I think being at Dahl Adult Day actually extended Michael's life," Sara said. 

Dahl Adult Day, an award-winning WesleyLife adult day center on the Wesley Acres campus in Des Moines, serves older adults who typically live with family members because of health-related needs.

They visit the center while their caregivers are at work or are busy with other responsibilities, and benefit from involvement with their peers in a safe and enriching setting that focuses on their abilities and preferences.

Many have memory challenges -- a situation that is welcomed by the center, as its programming specializes in memory support.

Becoming aware of the center was akin to finding water in the desert for Sara, who had been struggling with her husband's care when she noticed a Dahl Adult Day sign on her way to work one morning. 

"It was quite literally as if God had set an actual sign down in my path," Sara said. "He knew I was struggling, and that Michael was struggling, too. Michael's way of dealing with his illness was to keep saying, 'I want to do as well as I can for as long as I can.' And he wasn't doing well, being home alone in the house while I was at work."

Sara's experience was typical, Maria Jordan, the center's director, said. "Families that could likely benefit from adult day often have never heard of it, or have no idea what adult day involves," Maria said.

"Once someone finds out what we have to offer, they always end up wondering why they didn't take advantage of our services sooner. We can provide so much help in so many situations to improve the lives not only of participants, but of their families."

Sara said at first, Michael visited Dahl Adult Day only a day or two a week. As his illness progressed and it became increasingly unsafe for him to be home alone, he participated five days a week.

The knowledge that he was enjoying the center's programming while being treated with kindness and respect helped Sara focus on her job -- and assisted her in letting go of the guilt she had initially felt about spending time away from him.

"The simple fact that he was safe was such a blessing to me, and it was icing on the cake that he actually enjoyed his time there and participated in so many activities," Sara said. "And I was able to hang on to my work, which was something that I needed for a sense of normalcy as well as income. It's much easier for a caregiver when you can hang on to some little bit of life outside of the house, and outside of the illness."

Maria said Dahl Adult Day's primary focus is the physical safety of its participants -- but the center is much more than a place from which families can be assured loved ones won't wander. For all intents and purposes, Dahl Adult Day is a home away from home, she said.

"One thing you'll always hear our participants talk about is our food," Maria said with a laugh. "Michael was a prime example; he loved to eat, and I know Sara was far less concerned about his nutrition once he was with us. Our participants are able to enjoy the social aspects of eating -- of 'breaking bread' with one another, not just heating up a single-serve mac-and-cheese at home. Social interaction doesn't stop being important just because someone has a memory deficit."

Michael Harless spent several happy years at the center before his disease ended his life earlier this month. While Sara naturally is grieving the loss of her husband, she said her primary emotion is gratitude -- and she also feels a compulsion to "give back" by making others aware of the difference Dahl Adult Day can make to participants and families.

She also wants to breakdown one stereotype -- that families need to be well-off financially to afford adult day for their loved ones. WesleyLife has a finite number of scholarships available for families in need, and Aging Resources of Central Iowa also can provide some assistance. Other avenues of assistance are Medicaid waivers, long-term-care insurance, and assistance for veterans.

"The assistance we received allowed Michael to come a greater number of days a week, and that truly was the factor that I believe extended his life," Sara said. "That -- and the team here. I sometimes believed they were actual angels! I feel blessed to have been a part of the Dahl Adult Day family -- and it would be a wonderful tribute to Michael if his story helped someone else."

To learn more about Dahl Adult Day or schedule a tour, please contact Maria at (515) 271-6646, or at mjordan@wesleylife.org. 

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