devonly randomonium

Sugar-coated effery and shenanigans.

Weekend Dementia

on November 7, 2011

I started working at an assisted living facility on the weekends and boy has it been an interesting experience. Going into the job, I thought I would go in for a few hours, serve dinner, crack jokes, do some light housekeeping, crack jokes, play rummy and leave. And I probably would be doing those things on the assisted living side of the building. But instead, I ended up in the Alzheimer’s and dementia wing.

I didn’t want to work on that side of the building.

On the assisted living side, the seniors are playing cards, watching movies, eating popcorn and ice cream, and listening to the oldies on the jukebox. It’s like they’re up in da club…except they wear more clothes and take frequent naps. In assisted living, they’re still bopping around and having fun. But as you approach the Alzheimer’s and dementia wing, or Reminiscence neighborhood, the mood changes.

I remember when our group first approached the doors of Reminiscence during orientation. I had done a lot of research in the past about Alzheimer’s and dementia, so I thought I would be prepared for what was on the other side of those doors. When I saw the Reminiscence supervisor entering an access code to open the doors, I was instantly concerned. As the doors opened, I heard people yelling out random phrases or whimpering like frightened children. I saw people drooling and staring into space.  And I saw people being fed like babies. It was so overwhelming and I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it emotionally.

As we left the wing that day, the supervisor told us to let her know right away if we didn’t feel comfortable working in Reminiscence. I felt bad because I was the only one who said anything. But I didn’t want to be uneasy around the residents. The supervisor understood and said she appreciated my honesty.

During the next week of training, a number of call offs put us right back in Reminiscence for a few hours. Even though I was on edge, I plastered a smile on my face and helped out wherever I could. When all of the other trainees were afraid to talk to the residents, I stepped up to give hugs, hold hands and chat about days gone by. I even volunteered to feed one of the residents.

But that’s when I fell apart.

I sat down and said hello, but I doubted that the woman I would be feeding could even understand me. She just blinked and made noises. So I picked up a spoon, and slowly started feeding her. And every time I scooped up more food, I blinked back tears. It was heartbreaking to see, but I kept on going. I kept talking to her and encouraging her. Halfway though, a regular care manager stepped in to finish since we had to go back to training. I said goodbye to the woman, and made a beeline to the bathroom to fix my face. I later had a come to Jesus moment in my car.

As I look back, I’m glad that moment happened. I think that once I got over the initial shock of seeing people in different stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, I felt a little more comfortable working with the residents in Reminiscence.  Now, I can’t get enough of them. They all are unique and endearing in every way. They make me laugh. They make me cry. I even find myself worrying about them on my days off. But I’m always glad to see them on the weekends. I tend to forget all about my problems and social calendar when I’m working. So in a way, I guess I’ve developed a case of weekend dementia.







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