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Tom Porter: "I knew people needed help."
Aging with dignity is a challenge we all must face at some point in our lives, and caring for an elderly parent or a failing spouse is a reality we all face. When mom or dad becomes unable to liveindependently or stay alone without supervision, often the burden of caretaking is passed to adult children. It is a process that is often exhausting and depressing, with little support for the caregiver.
That’s where Tom Porter and Elite Adult Day Care Center come in; with elder and adult day care services, caregivers and their elderly parents can both a little easier.
The first thing you notice when you walk into Elite is the smell; clean and fresh, warm and welcoming, like a home rather than the “home”?where you visited your grandparents as a kid. Then you notice the walls: sunny yellow, green, gold, not a touch of boring beige in sight. The towels match; the artwork on the walls is engaging. These details may seem trivial, but for the senior citizens who come each day to socialize and be cared for, it makes the difference between just another facility and a home away from home.
“Half of what we do here is take care of the elder who is the patient. The other half of what we do is take care of the caregiver,” Tom Porter, owner of Elite Home Health Agency, explained. He knows a thing or two about the demands of being a caregiver.
“It was my last day of work before I went into early retirement,” he recalled. “I got a call from my parents. They said they had gotten my dad’s tests back. I didn’t even know that dad had had tests, but they were positive and he had cancer.”
Tom moved back to Vermont to help take care of his terminally ill father, and for three months he and his mother shared the weight of managing his father as his health failed. By the end, Tom was exhausted.
“I didn’t know then that I would end up doing this, but I knew people needed help,”? he explained. “If you can’t catch a breath and get rested, you deteriorate along with your loved one. You’re constantly exhausted. There’s no chance to have a social life. You need a break, you need to step away."
With elder day care, caregivers can give their loved ones much-needed outside socialization and themselves some time off. “You can have a few hours to catch up with friends, get coffee, do chores or just nap,” Tom pointed out.
For the elder clients who come through the doors as well, there is much to be gained. There are daily meals, games, exercise, oldies movies and even dance therapy.
Elite may be a day care center, but it feels like your best friend’s home: a bright kitchen complete with laundry (should the need arise), bathrooms with showers, a comfy room with a sparkling clean fish tank, and a wall full of books, games and puzzles. There is also a calm room especially designed to be soothing, with walls that are insulated from noise. Elite requires all its clients to have their basic mobility, be able to use the toilet, feed themselves and get in and out of a chair with limited assistance. Because they have these capabilities, the groups are often able to take day trips.
Past excursions have included the butterfly farm, local museums and a fall foliage tour. “If they come here, there are interactions, there are socializations,” ?Tom told the Advocate. Some people are quiet, some are loud, some are deaf, he said, but as long as they can behave in a socially appropriate manner, Elite can handle their care.
The Elite facilities are well staffed, with an average of three staff for eight clients. “It’s a numbers game to make sure everyone is safe,”?Tom explained. They offer respite care as well. “If you need to go out of town for a wedding or vacation and it’s not an appropriate outing for mom or dad, they can come and spend the night or the weekend here and we can watch them,”?Tom said.
Many of the Elite clients suffer from dementia. As the population of the United States ages, dementia is becoming a more common diagnosis. The disease affects the memory, personality and functioning of the patient. For many struggling to care for a loved one, dementia is not just emotionally taxing but physically difficult. In addition to requiring constant attention, people with dementia can have disrupted sleeping schedules or sleep very little, a situation that produces exhausted caregivers. In many cases, eventually the burden eventually gets to be too much, and the caregiver seeks support elsewhere.
“People come to us early in that process and late in that process, but we try to help earlier,” Tom explains.
Elder care is not a sexy topic. It does not capture the attention in the same way as scandal or war or politics; it is not edgy. Many issues that involve caregiving simply never are heard.
But Tom Porter is not just an elder care provider; he is also an advocate. His passion and kindness are at the heart of Elite. They are a reminder that we go out as we come in, with the help of others.