Forster Woods in Williamston puts caretakers front and center

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The entrance to Forster Woods Adult Day Center.

The entrance to Forster Woods Adult Day Center.

Providing care to loved ones dealing with physical or mental impairments is incredibly taxing, both physically and mentally. Jennifer Putmon would know.

As executive director of Forster Woods Adult Day Center, Putmon helps caregivers who feel as if they have to do everything on their own.

Forster Woods provides caregivers the opportunity to still live parts of their lives normally without putting their loved ones in residential care.

“You get quite confined, but you want to be there because you know them the best and it’s hard to train somebody quickly on the little quirks,” said Barbara Sawyer-Koch, whose husband Donald F. Koch suffers from dementia and spent many years at the adult care center before eventually being transferred to residential care.

Koch was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia roughly eight years ago. Today, he cannot understand basic communications and needs help with virtually every aspect of daily life.

Koch was a distinguished scholar for all of his life, which made watching him slowly lose the ability to use his brain all the more excruciating, Sawyer-Koch said.

“All he did was write, read and edit,” Sawyer-Koch said.

Sawyer-Koch served on the Michigan State University board of trustees for 16 years and Koch is a professor emeritus of philosophy at MSU.

In addition to their time spent with MSU, the two have also made several sizable donations to MSU with the goal of educating future leaders on the importance of preventing further damage to earth’s environment.

After taking care of Koch at home for approximately two years, Sawyer-Koch began to look for other options. She did not want to have Koch move out of the home, but too much of the workload was falling on her shoulders.

“I came across Forster Woods through a friend,” Sawyer-Koch said. “It was a godsend.”

Forster Woods was started by the Rev. Ronald C. Byrd Sr., the rector at St. Katherine’s Episcopal Church which is located adjacent to Forster Woods.

“He (Byrd) took care of his mother for many years when she had dementia,” Putmon said. “He saw a need for caregivers in the area to have some support so they can go to work, do activities they enjoy doing and maybe sometimes just take a nap.”

Forster Woods goal is to help relieve some of the pressure of being a full-time caregiver by watching over the caregivers loved ones for a few hours a day.

“It was a huge burden off of my shoulders,” Sawyer-Koch said. “Just even having somebody else feed him for breakfast and for lunch, that was a huge relief for me.”

Putmon said that Forster Woods is trained to assist with the activities of daily living.

“If they need help in the restroom or they need help with eating or mobility, we’re there to assist,” Putmon said.

One of the services provided by Forster Woods is a support group for caregivers.

“On the third Tuesday of every month, we offer a support group here at the center,” Putmon said. “We meet with caregivers who just want to talk to other caregivers who might be experiencing the same things.”

The artwork of participants at Forster Woods is proudly displayed throughout the building.

The artwork of participants at Forster Woods is proudly displayed throughout the building.

The Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Great Lakes Chapter also recognizes the importance of supporting caregivers.

“Part of the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association is to provide care to those who are living with the disease, but also to those who are caring for folks who are living with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Cammi Robinson, a program coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Great Lakes Chapter.

Even making it to a caregivers support group can be a struggle for those providing full-time support for their loved ones, Putmon said.

“A lot of times it’s difficult because they’d like to go to a support group but they still have their loved ones who they can’t leave home alone,” Putmon said. “So they are able to bring their loved ones in here (Forster Woods) to do activities with the rest of the participants and then we can head over to the church in one of the rooms and have our caregivers support group over there.”

Having the trust of the caregivers is an immense priority and is crucial in allowing the caregivers to catch their breath.

“It really comes down to the quality of the people working at the facility and you can’t do any better than Forster Woods,” Sawyer-Koch said.

A puzzle that one of the Forster Woods participants is working on.

A puzzle that one of the Forster Woods participants is working on.

Putmon said there are many daily challenges to her job, but in the end it’s all worth it.

“Overall, it’s awesome to help these caregivers who are really struggling and to spend time with these amazing people,” Putmon said.

The Lansing Caregiver Retreat is an upcoming event being hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association at Eagle Eye Banquet Center on April 27th. It is a full day event, free of charge and is for anyone who is a non-professional caregiver looking for a day of relaxation.

In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association offers a free 24/7 helpline that can be reached at 1-800-272-3900.