For more than 25 years now, I’ve been a health care worker in long-term care and assisted living. Twenty of those years have been with the same company. Although my job titles have changed over the years, my dedication to seniors remains steadfast. In my profession, I continue to learn daily, especially from the seniors. They are my best teachers.
One of the many things I’ve learned is that getting to know each senior, providing engagement and socialization opportunities and connection to others are essential for an older adult. My passion is for working with those seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The above is no different for them, in fact, it is paramount for their quality of life.
Knowing their likes and dislikes, keeping their lifelong routine in place as long as possible and offering companionship through community honors their personhood. Developing a relationship early in the disease, helps to build trust when someone can no longer share stories or lack the words to communicate later in the disease. And involving family as part of the care team is so important, after all, they know their loved one best.
We all want comfort as we age, it is not any different for people who have trouble thinking. When we can provide care for their mind, body and spirit, we can truly support the whole person.
During this pandemic, this vulnerable population continues to teach me what matters most:
• If my basic needs are not met, I will struggle.
• Assess me, not once a shift, but multiple times because I can change quickly.
• Make eye contact with me because even though your face is masked, I can understand you through your eyes.
• Talk to me with patience and kindness because I will not remember your name, but I will remember how you made me feel.
• Sit with me, hold my hand, rub my shoulders because I need to connect, my family is not able to visit.
• FaceTime and connect me to my family because I can hear their voices and see their faces. If I can’t understand this technology, my family can, and they will find comfort in seeing that I am well. And in that virtual visit, staff will gain knowledge about my family and hear our most precious memories together.
• If I get something wrong, don’t correct me, just roll with it, laugh with me, make believe with me. Be with me. Alzheimer’s is a disease with no cure. I need the human spirit, I need humor.
• And should I have complications on top of every thing else, listen to my wishes as silly or serious as they may seem because it will bring me comfort.
Jessica Kulczycki is community life and CARE director at Judson Senior Living in Cleveland.
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