A Place to Belong–The Senior Day Center at Stella Maris
By Christy Brudin
Everyone needs a place to belong—a place where they are safe and comfortable. This is true no matter how old you are, and regardless of your medical conditions or needs.
Evelyn Brouse knows this simple truth well. She spent nearly three years searching for a place for her husband Robert (Bob) Brouse to belong. Struggling with early onset dementia, Bob needed constant care and supervision; he also needed stimulating activities and companionship. As his full-time caregiver, Evelyn desperately needed some time to take care of herself. When she found The Senior Day Center at Stella Maris in Timonium, Md., she knew it could meet both of their needs.
Bob and Evelyn met when she took a job at Sparrows Point Shipyard in Baltimore, Md. Although she had the job only a short time, the position changed her life forever. Bob was her supervisor, but the relationship quickly shifted from professional to personal. “It wasn’t long before he made me quit the shipyard,” Evelyn recalled. “He told me, ‘No wife of mine is going to work in the shipyard,’ and I responded, ‘Who said I was going to marry you?’” Despite her initial jokes, Evelyn said yes, and the couple was married.
Both previously married, Evelyn and Bob already had two children each and now have eight grandchildren. Shortly after they married, the couple moved to the house where Bob grew up in Dundalk, Md., where they still live today.
Holding true to his promise that his wife wouldn’t work in a shipyard, Bob dedicated himself to helping Evelyn find a new career. He put her through cosmetology school and later through legal school. “He took care of the children while I was in school,” she said. Although she never became a practicing beautician, Evelyn has used her skills to cut Bob’s hair since her graduation. After graduation a second time, she found her calling and became a paralegal, a job she held for more than 20 years.
When he wasn’t working in the shipyard, Bob loved being on the water. “We did a lot of fishing and crabbing,” Evelyn said. “Bob has always loved the water, and he’s been on it all his life. We live right on the water, and we had this 20-foot boat that we were on all the time.”
Even when they weren’t enjoying Maryland’s shorelines and waterways, the Brouses were always outside. “We both enjoyed being outside, but Bob just loved it. On the weekends, he would leave the house right after breakfast, and he wouldn’t come back in until nightfall. He was always gardening or doing some sort of work outside,” recalled Evelyn.
Several years ago, Bob started to experience some problems at work. At the time, he was working for the Coast Guard climbing ships. His co-worker contacted Evelyn and asked her to take him to the doctor following some abnormal behavior. The doctor diagnosed Bob with early onset dementia, and Evelyn’s journey as a caregiver began.
Despite the diagnosis, the doctor recommended that Bob continue working to maintain a consistent routine. However, because of the physical and potentially dangerous nature of his work, that wasn’t possible for long. “After just a couple months, his co-worker called me again and said that I had to get him out of there before he got killed or killed someone else,” Evelyn remembered.
Following Bob’s retirement, Evelyn continued working for a year. However, she began to have increasing concerns about him staying home alone and decided to quit.
Evelyn’s retirement at such an early age meant that the couple had to live off Bob’s social security, which Evelyn acknowledged has been difficult. “I’ve had so many people ask me why I do this,” she said. “I tell them there were those vows when we got married that said, ‘in sickness and in health, until death do us part,’ and I take that very seriously.”
For three years, Evelyn dedicated her life solely to the care of her husband. It wasn’t until she realized that he was eligible for Veteran’s benefits because of his prior military service that she began to get some help with the enormous burdens of caring for someone with dementia. A doctor at Veterans Affairs (VA) informed Evelyn that Bob was eligible for adult day care services paid for by the VA, and she quickly began looking for help.
The Senior Day Center at Stella Maris was one of the first adult day centers she visited. “When my daughter and I pulled into the parking lot at Stella Maris, I had this tranquil feeling of relief come over me, and I thought, ‘This is where he belongs,’” Evelyn recalled.
After touring the beautiful property and learning about their programming, Evelyn felt even more confident she had found a perfect fit. “I did look at some other places, but no one else compared to Stella Maris, especially in terms of programming,” she said.
The Senior Day Center at Stella Maris offers a complete continuum of care. Unlike other adult day care centers, Stella Maris offers activities, programs, meals, excursions and transportation, as well as medical services, rehab services, dental care, personal care, beautician/barber services, podiatry and lab work. In addition to independent activities, the Center also offers an array of group programs, including music by outside entertainers, games and physical activities.
Bob has been going to Stella Maris two days a week for almost a year now, and the program has made an enormous difference in both Bob and Evelyn’s lives. “It’s just phenomenal to be able to drop him off and not have to worry about him because I know he’s being well taken care of by the amazing staff,” Evelyn said. “He also seems so much more calm when he comes home.”
Bob particularly enjoys the Center’s music programs, humming along to the music and dancing with staff members. For Evelyn, the peace of mind that comes with knowing that Bob is safe and well cared for is incredible. “I know that when he is there he gets everything he needs: his meals, his medications and some stimulation. They handle it all,” she noted.
Stella Maris has also given Evelyn the breaks she needs to continue caring for her husband. “Having those two days off makes me a better caregiver,” she acknowledged. “If there is a tough day, I always know that I will get a day off soon. I really can’t say enough about how much Stella Maris means to us.”
Published: March 2014