At the opening of a new respite care center in Ashland Wednesday, Agnes Finley sang songs from her youth while her daughter and caregiver, Mary, breathed a sigh of relief.

At the opening of a new respite care center in Ashland Wednesday, Agnes Finley sang songs from her youth while her daughter and caregiver, Mary, breathed a sigh of relief.

For the past five years, Mary Finley has been caring for her 89-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's, round-the-clock, without much of a break, she said.

"There's a tendency to get stuck in the house all day and think that you're the only one who has this or is caring for someone with it," she said. "But, then, you come to a place like this and you realize you're one of many."

The Ashland Lifespan Respite Center, run by The Arc of Jackson County, is designed to provide socialization for people with Alzheimer's or other memory-loss diseases — and to provide their caregivers with a break. "It can be very isolating, both for the caregivers and the patients," said Pam Swisher, Lifespan Respite coordinator. "This is a chance for the participants to interact with each other, but also for the family members to meet other caretakers. Or, they can go out and take care of themselves, knowing that they have this window of time every week."

The Ashland Memory Care Center closed in March 2009 after 15 years of operation, when Ashland Community Hospital withdrew its financial support. Until Wednesday, there had been no respite center for Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers in Ashland for almost two years. "It's nice to see some of the volunteers at the original center here volunteering today," Swisher said.

The new Ashland center, a branch of a similar Medford program, is on the third floor of the Skylark Assisted Living Center at Mountain Meadows, 900 Skylark Place. It is open from noon to 4 p.m. every Wednesday and costs $6 an hour, although a sliding-scale fee schedule is available for patients with limited funds. Transportation to and from the center is also available through Skylark Assisted Living.

Paying for a private caregiver would cost at least $18 an hour, Swisher said. "This is very reasonable, but we couldn't do it without volunteers," she said.

A $10,000 grant from Brookdale National Group Respite enabled The Arc, a Medford-based nonprofit, to open the Ashland center, Swisher said.

The center, which is still accepting patients and volunteers, will hold a fundraiser from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 12 at Skylark Assisted Living.

The $25 benefit will include wine from Paschal Winery, appetizers by Chef David Taub and site-specific theater by local performers. All of the proceeds will benefit the center. Tickets can be purchased at Chateaulin Restaurant, Northwest Nature Shop and Skylark Assisted Living.

On Wednesday seven patients attended the center, which has room for 12 each week. The patients ate lunch, shot pool, put together puzzles and played card games.

Volunteers from Skylark Assisted Living, the Medford Job Council and the community helped the patients with the activities. "This is great hands-on experience for them, because they're training to become CNAs (certified nursing assistants) and this way they get to get used to this environment and have fun with the residents," said Tanya McHenry, a career education coordinator in the federal AmeriCorps program who was overseeing the four teens from the Job Council.

At the end of the afternoon, the patients gathered around the piano to sing.

Sharing a music notebook with one of the Job Council students, Agnes Finley belted out "Buffalo Girls," a song she said she remembers from her younger days.

At the end of the number, she improvised. "Can't you come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon?" the crowd sang.

"Sure!" Finley replied.

For more information on the center or fundraiser, visit www.thearcjackson.org or call 541-821-8764.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.