There were little clues along the way. Occasional forgetfulness gave way to something his wife knew was more serious, though he stayed in denial.
“He’s the type of man who will never admit anything’s wrong with him. If you ask him, he’s always fine,” Adrianna Moritz of Port Jefferson Station said. “He had open heart surgery and didn’t even take a pain pill.”
Her husband George, 81, was diagnosed with dementia about five years ago, about two years after she recognized that he was losing cognitive function.
“We had to trick him to get him to a neurologist,” Adrianna said.
George, a data systems analyst, retired from Grumman in the early 1990s, after 40 years. He remained active, working part-time jobs “to stay busy.” He enjoyed woodworking and working on the couple’s Massapequa Park home. He loved puzzles — crosswords, crypto-quotes, Sudoku — and bowling.
“It was just sporadic in the beginning,” George says of his memory loss.
“I didn’t think he noticed,” Adrianna adds.
The couple sits side-by-side at a table in the art area of Day Haven Adult Day Services in Port Jeff Station, surrounded by colorful artwork produced by center’s clients. A piano is being played in an adjoining room, where more than a dozen people are enjoying a sing-along as their day winds down and caregivers return to pick up their loved ones.
George comes to the center four days a week. Day Haven, which focuses on dementia care, serves breakfast, lunch and a snack to the center’s clients, who on average, number 25 people each day. Trained program leaders and assistant leaders engage their clients with music, art, memory games, puzzles and exercise.
“I like it here,” George says. “It gives me something to do, so I’m not home all day, sitting around going crazy. It’s hard to spend all of your time together,” he says.
“This has been a godsend,” Adrianna says. “It’s tough to see your loved one slowly disappear.”
George rests a hand on her thigh. “This program is good for her too,” he says gently.
They’ve been married 44 years. They met through her uncle, who also worked at Grumman, he says.
“One day I asked her out to dinner – and that was that,” he says with a belly laugh.
Adrianna reminds him that he “robbed the cradle.” He is 13 years her senior. “I was still a teenager when we met,” she tells him.
Like most people who come to Day Haven, George enjoys reminiscing about the past.
“My short-term memory is shot most of the time,” he confides. But his recall of people and events stretching back decades is much better. “It really throws me for a loop when I can’t remember things. It’s very frustrating,” he says.
Day Haven’s intake process confirms cognitive impairment that prevents a person from being able to take care of him- or herself, assistant director Lori Maldavir said. It’s a community-based program, not a medically based program, so they do not administer medications, something people need to be able to do themselves. “We can remind people,” Maldavir said.
A metal bucket George is decorating with flowers as a birthday present for their granddaughter sits on the table in front of the couple.
“He never painted before,” Adrianna says, touching the simple, hand-painted flowers. “But now he enjoys it.”
In the past, his favorite hobby was woodworking — making toy chests and bird houses and step stools. “He was very precise.”
“I had a very orderly mind,” he replies. “Now it’s all scrambled.” George laughs again.
“Just a little,” his wife tells him.
George gets excited at the mention of Riverhead. Though he never worked at the Grumman plant in Calverton, he’d been there many times, he says. And he has family in Jamesport. “My mother’s maiden name was Trojanowski,” George says with a smile. “There’s a lot of Trojanowskis out there. We used to go out there to visit when I was a kid.”
Adrianna said George went to a senior center near their home in Nassau County before they moved in with one of their sons last year.
“Day Haven does a lot more with them than they did at the senior center,” she says. “They’re very good here.”
Knowing her husband is in a safe environment, well cared-for, is a big relief for her, Adrianna says.
“Caregiving is not easy,” she says. “This is so important.” The much-needed respite care allows Adrianna, who is retired from Nassau County BOCES, time and space to take care of herself and pursue her own interests, such as crocheting blankets for hospitals with a group of women at their church back in Massapequa.
“It’s tough,” she said. “I even went to a therapist” to learn how to cope with her husband’s cognitive decline.
Adrianna participates in one of Day Haven’s monthly support groups. It’s been a huge help, she says.
Day Haven’s new facility in Riverhead — located on Columbus Avenue adjoining Stotzky Park, will be one of only two adult day care facilities on the North Fork. The other is a Southold Town program in Mattituck open only to Southold residents.
The organization is renting the space from the Town of Riverhead — and sharing the building with the recreation department.
“We love that it looks out on the playing fields and there’s so much activity here,” Maldavir said during a tour of the gleaming, freshly painted new space May 31. There is also a fenced-in area to allow for the opportunity for people to get some fresh air.
“We’re excited to be here,” she said. “The town and the community have been very welcoming,” she said. For example, Bob’s Furniture is donating $1,000 worth of furnishings for a “quiet area” — a place where people can relax and sit quietly when they don’t feel like partaking in group activities.
The programs are tailored to the participants “as we get to know them,” Maldavir said. “We don’t force anyone to do anything in particular,” she said.
Day Haven is currently offering free trial days in Riverhead on Thuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. Caregivers should call to register in advance: 631-807-1720.
The private-pay fee is $75 per day, with discounts for mult-day signups. The program is covered by several insurance companies.
Initially the Riverhead center will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays but will expand to five days per week once the available spots fill in.
Day Haven director Betsy Geary is giving a talk about the signs of dementia at the Riverhead library next Wednesday, June 20, followed by a Q&A. The program runs from 1:30 to 3 p.m.
“Families affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia need the kind of support we provide,” Maldavir said. “It’s a tough journey, shattering lives. But you don’t have to go it alone.”