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Helping the elderly keep in touch

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Chuck Thomas

Edna Ryan takes part in an afternoon shuffleboard session at the In Touch Day Center for Older Adults in Rock Island. Various activities are available for the seniors to occupy their days.

ROCK ISLAND -- Sitting in one place, one would hear the loud call of birds, the skittering of dice hitting the table tops, the clicking of heeled employees on the floor, the clattering of silverware, a tape playing soothing music in the dining room, and the hum and roll of voices.

Here, they are peaceful sounds.

The long hall is lined with a railing for those who need help walking. A couple of folded wheelchairs sit in the hall.

Out the window, employees of Intouch Day Center for Older Adults gently are helping elderly men and women off their buses and walking them to a held-open door.

Here, older and handicapped adults feel catered to, welcome and included.

``We're not only beneficial to older people, but to families,'' program director Jeanette Hallberg said. ``Sometimes, women are taking care of their kids and their parents while trying to work|...|We're postponing nursing homes.''

A wide range of people use Intouch services, from those who have no education to those who have the credentials to be college professors, Ms. Hallberg said.

Intouch was created by Lutheran Social Services to serve adults more than 60 years of age with physical or psychological problems resulting from stroke, blindness, diabetes, hearing loss, Parkinson's disease, and other disabling conditions. The center at 501 42nd St. also has special programs for those with Alzheimer's disease and other memory disorders.

There are two rooms for Alzheimer's sufferers, one for those with high functioning skills and one for those with low. The staff plays games like city bingo, the cards marked with the names of area cities. Hopefully, a city's name will spark a memory, like where they live, Ms. Hallberg said.

That is the only type of bingo allowed at Intouch. Television is forbidden, too.

``If we had a TV set, they would sit in front of it all day,'' Ms. Hallberg said. ``They can do that at home.''

Instead, Intouch offers activities that will motivate, stimulate, and educate their guests.

There are five equally spaced activity rooms, with different programs going on all the time, Ms. Hallberg said.

There are health talks, maintenance therapy card playing, arts and crafts.

At one table, a staff member reads newspaper headlines to a small group each morning. It is important for them to know what is going on in the world, and hopefully, they will get involved in a conversation, Ms. Hallberg said.

It is harder to find meaningful activities for men, Ms. Hallberg said. The center is starting a wood-working time, headed by employee J.D. Hurt, who has many years' experience.

In the afternoon, more active games are offered, like beanbag toss, golf and shuffleboard.

In the craft room, Elsie Dowell sat crocheting. The last time Intouch held their annual bazaar, she sold six of her crocheted towels, she said.

Angela Stanforth colors greeting cards that also are sold at the bazaar.

``This is the only room I work in, but I do go to other events, like reflections, current events, and music,'' she said. ``You get something different all the time, let's put it that way.''

Mrs. Stanforth, who lives alone in Moline, has been coming to Intouch five days a week for a year. She didn't know anyone when she started but said she made acquaintances riding the same bus each day.

``It gets me out of the house and something to look forward to,'' she said. ``Everybody's nice.''

Many women find greatest comfort in the craft room, although it is half empty on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when Intouch takes a trip to the beauty shop.

Wednesday mornings' Tea and Conversation pulls women out of the craft room, as well. The ladies discuss things going on in their lives and laugh trying to keep their pinkies raised, correctly drinking their tea.

Mary Davis, who will be 90 soon, especially enjoys the relaxing tea time. This incredibly vivacious woman, mother of 10, worked at a children's day-care center until last year.

``I like it because I can tell about the old days,'' she said about Intouch.

The circle's 14 ladies nodded in agreement. Only a couple of the women live alone. Most live with their families or in high rises.

They all expressed happiness they have such a place to come to, to feel like they belong.

``I love you all, and I like to see you happy because that makes me feel good,'' Ms. Hallberg told the women.

The women make the rounds, too. The group goes out to lunch now and then, once even in a limousine to the Captain's Table.

Lunch at the center is a time for laughter, though.

Sitting in their makeshift cafeteria, each setting bearing mismatched place mats, the older adults do exercises before they eat. They swim forward and backward with their arms and roll their heads around, all to the count of 10.

Giggles ripple through the room as people converse. Employees set special signs on some plates, for those with diabetes or who need other special foods.

The last thing they do before they eat is greet their neighbor, at which time, one woman who barely participated in the exercises, shot out of her chair and over to Ms. Hallberg to give her a hug of appreciation.

After lunch, Intouch is required to have a rest period. One whole room, lined with plush recliners, is dedicated to this time. A person can almost imagine the men and women rushing to their favorite chairs.

It is easy to see how much Intouch affects participants' lives.

``I like to meet different people,'' wheelchair-bound Phyllis Davis said. ``I like to laugh, and I have had more laughs since I have been here. I have lots of problems -- my eye, speech, arm -- but I can talk better. I am better since I came to Intouch.''

-- By Kristen Foht (January 26, 1998)

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