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First Sunday program offers respite for caregivers during busy holiday season and beyond

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CRANSTON — On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Hope Alzheimer’s Center in Cranston was bustling with activity. In the various rooms, staff members led participants through a range of group activities like stretching exercises and craft making to keep participants healthy and engaged. In one room, several participants shouted out the name of a classic song as a staff member led a lively round of “Name That Tune.”

At Hope Alzheimer’s Center, participants who live with family or other full-time caregivers receive daytime care while their loved ones are at work, running errands or doing other day-to-day activities. Though the center’s regular program of care covers workday hours Monday through Saturday, thanks to First Sunday, a program sponsored by the Diocese of Providence and offered in partnership with Hope Alzheimer’s Center, families can now receive the same care the center offers on weekdays free of charge on a weekend afternoon.

“It’s really just a fun time for the people that come,” said Ellen Grizetti, president of Hope Alzheimer’s Center. “Their loved ones bring them in, we start right out by having some fun, have a little snack and then the best part, after the snack, we have some great entertainment for them.”

Co-sponsored by the diocese’s Catholic Social Services of Rhode Island and funded by grants from the National Family Support Program, First Sunday offers a place where caregivers can drop their family members off for an afternoon of entertainment and socializing while they run errands or fulfill other obligations on a weekend afternoon. The program is open to all who wish to participate, including both regular clients of Hope Alzheimer’s Center and newcomers looking for a one-time afternoon of care. For family members caring full-time for parents or a spouse, a few hours of professional care on a Sunday can offer a much-needed break, especially during the busy holiday season.

“This coming December, I would love for people to use [First Sunday] to go Christmas shopping. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for people to go look at Christmas displays, go to La Salette, whatever you want to do and know that your loved one is here,” said Kathy McKeon, diocesan supervisor of Catholic Social Services of Rhode Island, which coordinates the program.

According to McKeon, First Sunday launched last spring to supplement diocesan respite care already offered through the CareBreaks program, which provides funds to help individuals bring professional caregivers into the home on a part-time basis. While CareBreaks offers an important respite for caregivers of homebound individuals, for those who are able to leave the home, First Sunday provides the added benefit of group care.

“The idea about the group respite is it offers some opportunities that people don’t usually get with regular respite,” said McKeon, pointing out that doctors recommend socialization for Alzheimer’s patients to slow the course of the disease. “We’re looking for ways to not only do one-on-one respite in the home, but group respite to supplement some of the care.”

Cranston resident Nadine Higgins said her father, James, has attended First Sunday since it launched last spring. James also attends the weekday program at Hope Alzheimer’s Center while his daughter is at work, but, prior to the launch of the program, had no option to attend on Sundays if the family needed an extra day of care.

“It’s great because it gives me that extra day to get stuff done around the house,” said Higgins. “I work full time and Dad’s usually at the center six days a week. When he’s able to go on that one Sunday he gets kind of excited. And they usually have music, which he absolutely loves.”

Higgins said that her father was initially apprehensive when he began visiting the center in August but quickly grew to love the social community. A music-lover, he especially looks forward to First Sundays, when the center brings in musical performers to make the afternoon a special event. The family, grateful for diocesan support, doesn’t need to worry about the cost of an extra day of care.

“We pay to go there, so to have a free day; that too is a blessing. You factor in the cost and it does get expensive,” said Higgins.

According to Grizzetti, First Sunday is offered six months out of the year, with a focus on the busy holiday and late spring months. This month’s program will take place on Sunday, December 4, from 1 to 4:30 p.m., and feature a country and western singer as well as a snack and activities. After that, the program will take a break until the spring, when it will resume on the first Sundays of March, April and May.

“You just can’t understate what this does for a caregiver, to get a break,” said Grizzetti. “A guilt-free break.”

If you or someone you know has a loved one who could benefit from First Sunday, please call Hope Alzheimer’s Center at 401-946-9220 for more information or to register. There is no fee to participate. Advance registration is required.