Barbara Khurana passed away August 7, 2014. A memorial service will be held at the Dance Palace on August 23, 11 am- 2 pm.
At Stockstill House with Alzheimer’s: Senior Services director benefits from her own dedication.
Barbara Khurana is a great artist. The home in Olema she shared with her husband David Barnett is filled with art she created. Abstract paintings and delicate weavings meld with artworks painted by her talented husband.
David first met Barbara in Hawaii in 1979 She had just finished a marathon when David approached and asked her out to dinner. He was surprised when she said yes. This year marks their 21st anniversary.
“At the time Barbara had switched from art to working with the elderly in Hawaii,” David says. When they moved back to California she worked in programs for the elderly around the Bay Area and became active in Alzheimer’s support groups. Her PhD thesis, “Caring on Spouses of people with Alzheimer’s,” took nine years to complete while she was working.
Now 70, Barbara lives at West Marin Senior Services’ Stockstill House where she is the only resident with Alzheimer’s disease.
Grew up with grandmother
Growing up, Barbara and her sister shared a bedroom with their grandmother, Manya, for many years. Originally from Odessa, Manya was an unusual older person, living to be 100. “Many years of living with my grandmother probably affected my choosing to work with older people and to become a psychologist,” Barbara has said.
Barbara became a clinical psychologist with a PhD, specializing in counseling adults 50 years and older. She helped people in midlife and older adults and their families get through the hard times and transitions of aging. She also had private clients, with offices in Point Reyes Station, San Rafael and San Francisco. She was a group facilitator at the Marin Alzheimer’s Association where she conducted weekly groups for early-stage Alzheimer’s patients, a director of other senior centers, project director of small group homes for older adults and a therapist in a multiethnic mental health clinic. Her husband David says, “People still come up to me and tell him how much she helped them, people I don’t even know.”
Barbara applied for her position her as Executive Director of West Marin Senior Services in 1992. The family was living in Oakland and they were already looking for a smaller town and better schools for their two sons. When she began the job they moved to Olema.
While at WMSS Barbara did an amazing amount of good. She worked on the Senior Lunch program with Dance Palace Executive Director Carol Freidman, founded the Holstein 100 bicycle tour, and was involved in Mesa House – the assisted living facility in Point Reyes Station, to name but a few of the numerous projects she organized.
While fundraising for Mesa House, Barbara made a presentation at the Dance Palace on behalf of WMSS, recalls friend Susan Brayton. “I was drawn to her clear empathy for our aging local population,” Susan says. “She started a Caregivers’ Group at the Dance Palace on one Wednesday evening a month. As I was taking care of my mother I decided to attend, and then found myself still there after 12 years! Barbara’s patience and words of wisdom were needed by me to handle the often difficult times I had with my mother as she resisted her own aging.”
“With Barbara’s bringing balance into my caregiving connection, this enhanced rather than detracted from the relationship with my mother, who incidentally lived to 104,” Susan says. “The friendship that Barbara and I developed because of our long history together in the Caregivers’ Group brought her to my mother’s side as a personal friend and they too developed a significant loving relationship.”
Surrounded by the disease
During those years, Barbara and her sister were alternately flying to and from California to relieve their own mother’s caregivers in Florida. After journaling her mother’s progress and eventual decline from Alzheimer’s, Barbara wrote in her monthly column for the West Marin Senior Services newsletter that her mother had died on August 4, 2000. Barbara seemed to be surrounded by the disease; her mother-in-law also had Alzheimer’s.
“We started to work together,” Susan says of their unusual collaboration. “Barbara’s psychology practice and my art practice were combined and we presented art therapy workshops on decision making and trusting intuition, using art as the medium,” Barbara valued these workshops. “It gave her an opportunity to meld psychological insights by using art and therapy,” Susan says. “And we all benefited from her infinite wisdom.”
Later, with friends, Barbara and Susan formed their own aging support group. It was here, some six years ago, Barbara admitted her own diagnosis.
Barbara worked for 10 years after she stopped working for WMSS. She had offices for private practice and had started to phase out work until 2007 when she received her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s. “It was a shock.” David says.
In 2009 they took trips. They went backpacking in Yosemite. They took a cruise and a flight to Australia. “The first few years were relatively symptom-free,” David recalls. “She started to have symptoms, but they weren’t obvious for three or four years.”
“Her advice to me always, and to everybody else, was that any Alzheimer’s caregiver should get out and do things,” David says. “But when I did it she really didn’t like it. I would remind her it was her advice, and she would say ‘Okay,’” he recalls, laughing.
In 2011 and 2012, David brought in caregivers to help out. “The whole family wanted me to do it at home. We were going to do it at home, but it was really difficult,” he says. In 2013, Barbara entered Stockstill House in Point Reyes Station.
Chloe Cook, Director of Volunteer Services for WMSS, describes Stockstill House as, “A lovely facility. There’s a beautiful view outback, an organic orchard, and gardens surround the building. Every room has great windows, so you get the feeling of being indoors and outdoors at the same time. For people who lived in West Marin, having nature right at your door is important. It is the perfect environment for the care we give.”
Having a roommate, someone that is interacting on a daily basis, actually decreases patients’ decline, Cooks says. “Contact with another person fights the isolation that happens in other facilities. This is an eight-bed facility, and we’re currently looking for another resident. In assistant living facilities you have to be able to walk in the door but, once we take you, you stay with us. We have a hospice license, so we can take people through the end-of-life. The goal is to keep seniors here in West Marin, close to family and friends so that they can visit.”
“I feel so passionate about what we do,” Cook says. “And I’m so proud of our staff who provide such complementary services.”
Barbara has been at Stockstill for a year and a half. She is the only Alzheimer patient at present. “Alzheimer’s seems to be plateaus, they can drop down,” David says. “Now she is on hospice again.” David says Barbara always worried she would get Alzheimer’s. Her mom had it also in middle age.
“I started going to a support group in 2010,” David says. “People, including Barbara, said I should go. It was overwhelming. Support groups help you realize you have to take care of yourself if you want to be a good caregiver. You need to get away from the stress. When she first got it, she was the first to tell me to get along with my life, but when someone is going through all the disease’s stages, you grieve all the time. Barbara has dedicated so much of her life to Alzheimer’s. For me there’s a grieving that keeps on going on and on.”
David says he had a lot of support from family. Barbara has a sister in San Francisco. “She’s been really helpful,” he says.
“Barbara didn’t think I would be this good a caregiver. She was surprised,” David says. “It can bring out in the caregiver strengths they didn’t know they had.”
“Art was really a blessing to her, she could still function with her art, she could really let go, “David says. “It was something from her past that she could bring up again. It was a saving grace.”
David Barnett will ride the 30-mile route this year at the Holstein 100, the event his wife founded to raise money for WMSS. He asks that donations be made to Stockstill House.
For more information on WMSS visit wmss.org.The Alzheimer’s Association, Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter, is located at 4340 Redwood Highway in San Rafael, 472-4340; alz.org
Citizen contributor Eileen Puppo lives in Woodacre