But now Deltejo is finally getting some sleep – and her mother is being well cared for along with about 40 other clients seven nights a week. Activities may include arts and crafts, cooking, yoga, or Zumba, and even live performances. On the night we visited, Juan Ortega played American and Spanish favorites on his synthesizer.
Though it looks like entertainment, each activity has a therapeutic benefit for memory-compromised people, says Deborah Messina, who runs the overnight program. She described a common problem among dementia patients known as “sundowning.” It is thought to affect about 20 percent of Alzheimer’s patients.
“Their day is our night and vice versa, and they are confused about it,” Messina says. “It is usually at dusk where an agitation comes, a confusion comes.”
Many people with dementia are more alert at night than they are all day—just when their caregivers need to sleep. Rather than try to alter this mismatch, Elderserve At Night embraces it.
The program is the brainchild of David Pomeranz, the executive director of the Hebrew Home, who opened the program in 1996. He says the idea came to him after hearing heartbreaking stories from struggling families.
“People were sleeping in front of doorways because they were concerned that mom or dad would wander out of the house,” Pomeranz says.
Those families desperately needed a safe place for their loved ones at night—and a decent night’s sleep. And the Hebrew Home set out to meet that need.
It’s a similar philosophy—to meet clients’ needs wherever they may be—held by the therapists and social workers who staff Elderserve now. “Here, their behaviors are normalized,” Pomeranz explains. “Everything is OK. Activities are structured for them to be successful. They eat, they relax—they can be themselves. To us is this is who they are. We’re not the family members who are dealing with that incredible loss of seeing someone who was and isn’t any more.”
The program is covered by some private insurers and by New York Medicaid, the federal-state program for poor and disabled people. To the extent that it can keep people out of nursing homes, it can save money.
Medicaid pays a typical nursing home in New York about $320 per day, versus $200 for the overnight program. But so far, few if any other overnight programs exist solely for people with dementia. Pomeranz thinks the idea hasn’t caught on with other nursing homes because it is difficult to find staff who are willing to work the overnight shift. It was also important to get Medicaid and other insurers to reimburse for the program, and that funding has not been pursued in every state.
Elderserve At Night tries to serve its clients even as their conditions worsen. Next door to the room where Ortiz and others are dancing and enjoying the live music, it feels like another universe. The music is soft, the lights are low, and a subtle scent of lavender is in the air. People with more advanced disease spend the evening here. Some are sitting around a table, each with a caseworker, who helps them work with blocks and basic puzzles.