The Living Cornerstone was founded upon a deep need perceived by Gilda Scammell while working with Sedge Mobile Meals. This project of hers involved cooking and delivering meals to old and frail needy people in the community. It made her aware of a number of underprivileged / lower income residents in various stages of Alzheimer’s. Many of these folk were living by themselves frightened and insecure as their daily life became confusing and meaningless, destroyed by an affliction they could not tame or control.
In circumstances governed by financial constraints, the families involved could not afford the cost of getting a caregiver in to look after their loved one. Consequently such sufferers were frequently left to their own devices during the day. Some of these folk wandered off and got lost. Some were confined to a locked up house or even worse a locked room. Some showed signs of sexual abuse. Gilda came across many sad cases in our little village alone and says there are many more unknown cases out there.
In February 2008 her compassion gave her a desire to find a way to help these people and The Living Cornerstone was born of a vision in her heart. After wrestling with many ways to materialize it, in May 2013 she rented a house at 18 Swallow Drive. It started as a day care centre Monday to Friday but by the end of the month the house had become a 24/7 care center.
At that stage there were 4 full care and 1 day care persons. Swallow house is only a 2-bedroom home. The rooms are large and can accommodate 5 people comfortably. There are only 4 in this house due to the advanced stage the people are in. They need extra care which 3 carers lovingly give them during the day. There are 2 carers on duty at night.
The 2nd house at 12 Swift Street opened 6 months later in December 2013. This is a 3-bedroom home and can accommodate 6 people. Here again it is an older house and the rooms are large. 4 carers attend the occupants during the day and 2 at night. The residents in this house range from 66 to 96. All are in different stages of Alzheimers.
Again after 6 months there was such a great need that a 3rd house situated at 14 Blue Gill Street was found and rented in May 2014. Being large it accommodates 9 people. There are 4 single rooms, 1 double room and a very large room with 3 beds in it. The house is manned by 4 - 5 carers during the day and 2 -3 carers at night. The caregiver complement depends on the needs of the residents (like the blind man at Blue Gill house.)
Alzheimer’s affects the sufferer as well as their family and the caregiver. It is not easy to accept that your loved one is there in body but not in mind and eventually may not know who you are. People find it difficult to cope with the unavoidable changes that occur in the sufferer. Mentally they suffer loss of memory, the power of cohesive thought and consequently, of being able to communicate.
Time loses its meaning – they don’t know day from night so they need 24 hour surveillance. They may do many irrational things – leave the stove on, switch off the fridge, walk around naked, invite strangers into their homes, hide food, accuse you of stealing from them etc. Physically, they forget how to eat, become incontinent, lose their depth perception so trip and fall very easily, etc.
The Living Cornerstone is there to help families and Alzheimer sufferers cope with the inevitable, to lighten the load and provide a secure environment where residents are provided with a loving, homely atmosphere. The homes are run on Godly principles - an orderly daily routine for the residents is in place served with love and kindness. This includes walks twice a day with a caregiver outside of the fenced property enabling residents some opportunities to interact with the community.
Many people who personally have experienced an Alzheimer’s family member or friend know that caring for Alzheimer's sufferers is not easy. The 34 caregivers have a vital role to play at The Living Cornerstone where the quality of life of the residents depends on the understanding and patience of the carers dealing with them.
Being an Alzheimer's caregiver working under mentally taxing conditions is a highly intensive pressurized 24/7 job. The caregivers require special training to deal with the difficulties that can arise with their charges. Aggression is a stage of the Alzheimer’s disease that carers need to understand. They can get kicked, smacked, spat at, insulted and food thrown at them.
They can be accused of taking just about anything that residents themselves have hidden away. The specialised training is to help them cope with all of this and to keep focused on the person and not the result of the disease. The Garden Route Alzheimer's Carer Empowerment Centre in George comes through to Sedgefield on a regular basis reinforcing the training and providing emotional support to all involved.
Besides the 24 carers there is a manager - Petra Brits and a registered sister, Val Patrick. There is another voluntary registered nurse who helps out. Gilda is the founder member and concentrates on raising funds etc. However, on one occasion the caregivers themselves initiated and organised a successful Recycled Fashion Show to raise funds for The Living Cornerstone.
As a registered NPO/PBO, strict records are kept as stipulated by the Dept of Social Development for the Aged.
Ultimately it is Gilda's dream to have a farm style village community of cottages which will be a self-supporting safe haven for Alzheimer sufferers irrespective of race or creed.
This was good reading because it poignantly reflected my own family's experience as we watched our active and capable father shrink to a shadow in the clutches of an affliction he could not tame or control. It ably articulates for him what he could not express himself.
For anyone who lives with or knows someone who has Alzheimers, 'Still Alice" will give you insights into how these people experience the indignities of this illness as they decend into frightening helpessness through debilitating memory loss.
Hopefully it will encourage you to support them on their lonely irreversible journey into exile and isolation with compassion and understanding.
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