When I try to imagine what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, I think of the flower that represents the cause — Forget-Me-Nots. Though the stems grow tall, the five-petaled blooms are small and with their blue and yellow charm entice you to remember the little things. Growing in shade near water sources the wildflower spreads easily, freely self-seeding leading it to grow where it may be unwanted.
The seeds of Alzheimer’s quickly cause your brain cells to waste away and die at a progressive rate. I imagine that you might know that you are losing your independence and yourself, but not know why. You’re left begging to remember the little things. But there can also be charm in this lost identity.
The Special Care Wing for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Residents
The summer before I headed off to college I transitioned from working as a dietary aide in the kitchen of the Olathe Good Samaritan Home to being an assistant to CNA’s. This allowed for a modified schedule for me to continue to be on staff while I was in college and gave an extra pair of hands to do the small tasks that often became overwhelming as the resident’s physical needs always took priority. I helped take out the trash and bring laundry to the laundry room. I helped wheel residents to their meals, physical and occupational therapy and, of course, BINGO. But my favorite task was helping a particular resident that loved puzzles put at least one together each shift.
I was assigned to help in the Special Care Wing one weekend, a section of the home I hadn’t experienced yet. You needed a special code to get through the doors. This was a safety precaution as these residents were suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia and could cause harm to themselves or others if not closely monitored.
My first weekend was a little sad. After I learned each residents’ name and the care they required, I found that there was not much for me to do as a non-certified assistant. There were no residents eager for me to help them with a puzzle. The common area was often quiet with those in our care simply just sitting. But that all changed one day.
Now science says that full moons do not have an impact on human behavior, but science wasn’t with me that day I went to work in the special care wing on a full moon. I could tell that there was something different about the entire wing as soon as the automated doors shut behind me.
For one, Henry was up exploring everyone’s rooms and fixing their windows and toilets. And by fixing I mean dismantling them. A familiar nurse went in behind him as he finished and headed on to the next. She gave me a big smile as she asked for permission to enter from the resident to put her screen back in her window.
I checked in at the nurses’ station ready for whatever tasks they needed help with. The first order of business came from Henry again. It was time to celebrate now that his work was done. He requested dancing music and I set straight away to find the radio. I turned the volume all the way up. All of a sudden all of the residents that usually spent their hours sitting were clapping their hands. Wide grins grew on every face and a chorus of laughter filled the room. The common area was filled with energy.
I took a seat at the round table next to Grace, a resident that usually spent her hours in silence, often refusing to even eat. I cleared her empty breakfast dishes happily that day. But I couldn’t figure out what she was up to. She kept bending down in her chair as if touching her toes to exercise. Each time she would pop back up above the table I would ask, “now, just what are you doing?” She would only answer me with wild eyes and head back down under the table. Finally, with a proud look she popped back up. I had to peek under the table. “Why Grace, you’ve tied your shoelaces together!” She answered back, “isn’t it a funny joke?”
That day continued as many of my days working at the nursing home did — filling my servant’s heart with gratitude. Most of the names and in between, small exchanges have faded from my memory, but this full moon day will be one that I might never forget.
I hope to forget not the charming side of this terrible disease. There are so many unwanted days. But once in a full moon you are gifted a fixer and a dancer and a joker.
Recently our family received the news that my mother’s cousin has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. A woman that’s known me and loved me my whole life. Our hearts have been heavy that such a bright and joyful woman now has her days dimming. But when my mother told me the news my first thought was of one of the last conversations I had with my Omie. This was long after she had forgotten much of how she used to live her life due to dementia.
The conversation wasn’t about anything special. Perhaps plants or her outfit that day. I’ll never forget her last words. We sat in a common area in her beloved nursing home, she took my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “I don’t know things, you know, but I sleep good.” Her smile that day, may I forget not.
It may be hard to sleep well when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. But know that is not their wish. And with everything know that you are not alone.
Don’t ever hesitate to tell your story for may you forget not.
Helpful Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Resources:
- Alzheimer’s Association — find your local chapter and link up with community members that can support you.
- Eldercare Locator — connect with local community resources to support you with services such as counseling and training.
- Check out Let’s Talk Dementia for helpful books, podcasts and videos.
- Local to Northern Colorado there is Dementia Together that offers trainings and services and links arms with B Sharp Arts Engagement, a program that partners with the Fort Collins Symphony to give access to those with dementia and their caregivers who wish to experience the symphony.