Sign up for Pioneers' Home

Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Senior News By Marianne Mills

"As soon as you turn 65, you should get on the Pioneers' Home list," advises 41-year-old Mary Larsen. "It is better to have it and not need it than the other way around." Mary is referring to the wait list for Alaska's Pioneers' Homes. Many people go on the Inactive List in order to secure priority on the Active List for when they really need it. Vacancies or openings at the Pioneers' Homes fluctuate and those who wish to go there are prioritized by the date of their original application date.

Mary and her father John are very familiar with the advantages of Alaska's Pioneers' Homes. For several years they cared for Betty Larsen, Mary's mother and John's wife, who developed Alzheimer's. "We believed that we had an obligation to care for mom at home and we exhausted ourselves doing it." Upon the advice of a friend, they applied for Betty to become a resident at the Pioneers' Home. Mary explains, "That was the best decision we ever made. I only wish we had done it sooner."

Since becoming a resident at the Sitka Pioneers' Home, Betty is so much happier and her functioning actually improved. "And our relationship with my mom got so much better." Mary and John now thoroughly enjoy the quality time they spend with Betty. "No more fighting at bath or bedtime, no more sleepless nights worrying mom will wander out of the house while we try to sleep." They have peace of mind knowing that Betty is safe and well-cared-for by experts in the field of aging.

The staff at the Pioneers' Homes are all highly trained in the care of persons with Alzheimer's Disease. The nurses, aides, administrators, therapists, housekeepers, even the maintenance and food service workers interrupt their regular duties to listen to the residents. It is truly impressive how loving and dedicated the staff is. Many staff members have worked there 10 to 15 years. At the Juneau Home, staff members are assigned to one of four "neighborhoods," where they care for the residents for years.

"We strive for a home-like atmosphere as much as possible," explains Jill Sandleben, administrator for the Juneau Pioneers' Home. "Our place currently includes four residents cats, ten birds and Lulu the guinea pig." Families and friends are encouraged to visit and stay involved in the lives of the residents. In fact, the staff see themselves as partners with family members in the care of loved ones.

The Pioneers' Home is part of the larger community, welcoming visitors and volunteers. Individuals are needed as companions with the elders. Gardening hobbyists are also needed to get involved in the Homes' spring gardening activities. In Juneau, community support is exemplified by the incredible generosity of the Glacier Valley Rotary Club, which holds a successful pie auction fund raiser every year.

Alaska's Pioneers' Homes invite any Alaska resident, age 65 or older, to apply.

Couples are welcome. It is a great place to socialize, make new friends or spend time with old friends. Freedom is valued: Residents can choose to spend time alone or in recreational activities with others. The residents range from senior citizens who are totally independent to persons needing structure and special care.

Everyone is welcome to stop by to visit residents or to take a tour of the Juneau Pioneers' Home. For further information, Alaskans should call 780-6422, extension 208 to contact Kelley Huse, social worker, or extension 213 to contact Jill Sandleben.

• Marianne Mills is the Program Director for Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service. CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.

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