Little ones eagerly picking out their Halloween costumes at the store, Pumpkin Spice Lattes available at Starbucks, and Monday Night Football are some favorite aspects of fall. October also reminds me of my earliest memory of senior living – when my 2nd grade class visited a nursing home in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. My class went to sing to the residents for their Halloween party. I vividly remember all of these elderly ladies and gentlemen wearing halos with wings taped to the backs of their wheelchairs. While I noticed many of them were slumped down in their chairs looking sad, what still sticks out in my mind is the conversation I had with my mom, who was a chaperon for the fieldtrip. My mom was mortified by the fact that all of the residents had to have angel wings and halos. When I asked why this was so bad, she explained that we owed these men and women their dignity and respect. Many of these elders served during World War I and World War II. These men and women buried loved ones that sacrificed their lives for our country. They survived the Great Depression, and their hard work was why we had the economic stability we were blessed with in the eighties. She explained that if they wanted to wear an angel costume, that was fine, but to force them was simply wrong. This particular event made a lasting impression on me.
Fast forward several years, and I now have the privilege of serving our senior generation as the Community Relations Director with Cedarhurst of Edwardsville Memory Care. I am honored to work at a Community that provides Person Centered Care thanks to the in-depth training provided by the Alzheimer’s Association. This approach developed by the Alzheimer’s Association focuses on our seniors’ emotional needs and care preferences to be consistent with their life style. In other words, here at Cedarhurst we honor both who they are and the life they have lived. We respect and value each individual and strive to understand the perspective of the individual person in all care and activities. We provide supportive opportunities to help them live their lives and experience well-being, while also providing individualized emotional and physical spaces for care that are in tune with their needs.
Both our residents and their families appreciate our approach. One family in particular stands out in my mind. A wife and her two children came to us, frustrated with the system because their loved one, Joe, had bad experience upon bad experience. He struggled in the hospital, in an assisted living memory care, and in a nursing home. He was described as difficult and combative. The first thing we requested is for the family to tell us who Joe was; we wanted to hear his life story. Our care team used this information to embrace him as a musician, a Veteran, a dad, and husband. We developed activities that were meaningful to him. Joe lived his final months smiling, showing his sense of humor and his love for music, his family, and socializing. After he passed away, Joe’s wife brought snow globes for each of us as her way of thanking us. Inside each snow globe is an angel with wings that serves as a reminder of a very important lesson learned. Those angel wings now serve as a constant remembrance of the strength and dedication for all families who have a loved one who has been touched with Alzheimer’s or dementia.