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Caregivers celebrate return of Tampa Bay dementia support

Adult day centers, which serve older adults with disabilities, reopened in Hillsborough County this week.
Patricia Miller, left, gets a hug from her sister Stacey Miller, 53, at the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center in Tampa on May 9. Now 71, Patricia Miller once changed her infant sister’s diapers. Now, Stacey Miller cares for her, but welcomes the time her older sister spends at the center.
Patricia Miller, left, gets a hug from her sister Stacey Miller, 53, at the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center in Tampa on May 9. Now 71, Patricia Miller once changed her infant sister’s diapers. Now, Stacey Miller cares for her, but welcomes the time her older sister spends at the center. [ HANNAH CRITCHFIELD | Times ]
Published May 13|Updated May 18

Melvin Monroe has always known that if circumstances were reversed, his oldest sister would gladly care for him.

Eloise Crump always looked out for him, this fiery woman who taught in Hillsborough County schools for 30 years seemed to find victory at any slot machine she touched.

Monroe, a 68-year-old Tampa resident, still remembers the hot meals she made him while he was a single young adult.

Now 81, Crump has dementia. Throughout the years of lockdown, Monroe did his best to keep her engaged — taking her on walks, facilitating calls with loved ones and chatting over dinners. “But I’m not trained,” he said. “You know, I just love her, and I know she has to eat,” he said.

“Caretaking is a challenge, but the biggest challenge is seeing someone who you love decline in their stature,” Monroe added. “I could see a regression because she just didn’t have activity.”

That made Monday morning particularly joyful for the pair.

Adult day care centers run by Hillsborough County reopened their doors this week, joining other Tampa Bay support groups that have begun to cautiously resume in-person activities for older adults with disabilities.

“After two years of being home, with little to no contact with anyone, it’s just amazing,” said Stacey Miller, a 53-year-old caretaker of her older sister, who attended the reopening of the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center on May 9. “It’s a wonderful thing. Not just to me and her, but to my family, period.”

Adult day care centers provide a space for older adults to gather and socialize. Many seniors who attend have some form of dementia or developmental disability, meaning activities are often geared toward mental stimulation — from memory games to pet therapy to exercise.

The pandemic shuttered many of these centers, cutting off a lifeline for many working caregivers, who depended on these programs to keep their loved ones active and safe throughout the day.

At 20, Patricia Miller changed her infant sister’s diapers. Now, as an adult, Stacey Miller cares for her.

Patricia Miller, 71, has developmental disabilities. Because her age made her high-risk for severe illness from coronavirus, her sister limited their contact with others over the last two years.

Phone calls from staff at the senior center kept her afloat, particularly on the days Stacey Miller had to leave for her job as an elevator dispatcher.

“If it wasn’t for the ladies at the center with those phone calls three times a week, sometimes twice a day — it kept her stimulated, from being isolated,” Miller said. “Because of the pandemic, she didn’t get very much interaction with anybody.”

Two of Hillsborough County’s centers providing adult day services, the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center and Bloomingdale Adult Day Care Center, are now open from 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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The remaining two centers will open within a few weeks, according to Remona Singleton, 39, senior supervisor at the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center.

Other organizations serving caregivers and older adults, such as the Alzheimer’s Association of Florida, also opened for in-person programming last month, according to Matt Eaton, the chapter’s spokesperson.

“It just gives me a break, too,” said Monroe, the Tampa resident who cares for his sister. “It allows me to not have to squeeze in everything. I can do things on a little more relaxed setting.

“The centers are great,” he added. “They need more of them.”

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