Meet the caregiver who loves helping people with Alzheimer's

Moving Picture: Wheaton respite volunteer provides break for caregiver

Chris Litavsky has seen firsthand how the pain and challenges of Alzheimer's disease can affect a family trying to care for a loved one without outside help.

Both her grandmother and stepmother were afflicted with the disease, she says, and it was extremely hard to watch her grandfather and dad try to cope.

So when she saw a newspaper story about a year and a half ago about the senior respite program available through Metropolitan Family Services, the Wheaton woman jumped at the chance to help.

Metropolitan Family Services has more than 800 full- and part-time employee and many volunteers who help roughly 53,000 families and individuals in Chicago, DuPage County, the Evanston/Skokie area and the Southwest suburbs. The group works to help those in need with economic stability, emotional wellness, education and empowerment.

Litavsky underwent training with the agency and then waited four months to be placed with a family. The placement process includes meeting with the family in need to make sure the personalities mesh.

Litavsky now visits regularly with Rose Gagliano, a 98-year-old who came to the U.S. from Italy as a young woman before World War II. Rose doesn't have Alzheimer's, but she does have a few memory issues, and caring for a woman her age takes a great deal of time. Litavsky's visits allow Rose's daughter, Annette Re, who is in her 70s, to spend time with friends or run errands.

Litavsky spends three hours a week with Rose, from noon to 3 p.m. every Wednesday, and they have a regular routine. First, the two women eat lunch and chat, and then they move to the living room to continue the conversation.

Rose loves to tell stories, Litavsky says, and there's nothing she enjoys more than spending time recalling her experiences in both Italy and the United States.

Litavsky says she's been working with older people since she was in high school.

“I like working with older people because they are very interesting,” she says. “I am especially passionate about people with Alzheimer's or dementia.”

Rose has neither of those, but her daughter appreciates having someone to help look after her mom.

In addition to giving family members a break, respite volunteers can help a senior such as Rose to socialize with someone besides their immediate caregiver. Litavsky says.

For now, Litavsky says volunteering with one family is all she can handle in addition to a part-time job, a husband and three teenagers that keep her busy. But in a few years, when all the kids have left the house, she says she hopes she'll have enough time to help more than one family.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, you can find more information by visiting

You also can call Jody Kanikula at (630) 784-4875 or email her at

  Chris Litavsky makes sure Rose Gagliano remembers to use her walker when moving from room to room. Mark Black/
  Respite volunteer Chris Litavsky's visits with Rose Gagliano usually start with the two sitting down for lunch. Mark Black/
  Rose Gagliano, 98, and respite volunteer Chris Litavsky enjoy their weekly visits. Mark Black/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.