What I've learned from participants of Alzheimer's Association workshops

It's now over a year since I've been volunteering on the Alzheimer's Association Speakers' Bureau. It's an honor, and I feel a great responsibility to do what's right by these elders, their loved ones and professionals. Having served almost 8 years in senior living, I believe that together, we're a village; and so I encourage workshop participants to share their hurdles and best practices. Here are some of my favorites:

= Hometown newspaper: A daughter shared that her Mom grew up in a small Nebraska farming community. She was able to find archived editions of the town newspaper during her Mom's youth and so printed out multiple sets. It's a beautiful reminiscence together - old memories, community gossip, events and photos spark conversation and warmth. 

= Physician's appointments: Many families have discuss best practices during a physician's appointment for an elder who is in the initial stages of their journey. Loved ones seek to enforce the dignity and engagement of the elder, while also ensuring that the provider has correct, current information regarding symptoms and needs.  One daughter shared that she writes out her questions and observations prior and includes them with her Mom's sign-in paperwork. 

= Nonverbal connections: Lots of loved ones have shared tips how they connect with an elder who doesn't much engage in verbal communication:
  • Touch: Now with every visit, a daughter shared that she massages her Mom's hands with lotion and paints her nails. 
  • Music: A son-in-law was delighted to realize that his Mother-in-law still knows most of the lyrics to big band era songs. When he knows them too, they sing along together. 
  • Greeting: A husband with a calm, peaceful approach greets his beloved bride. He moves slowly, bends down to get into her line of sight, touches her hand, greets her with the nickname he's always called her and kisses her on the cheek. He shared that he lets go his own expectations before each visit, ready to embrace whatever she is giving each day. 
  • Moniker: A son had found that it had become confusing and frustrating for his Mom when he called her Mom. So now he engages her like a peer and calls her by her first name. Less confusion; more connection.

= Holidays: A gentleman in attendance with two adult children shared that the previous holiday was the first in which his Spouse was upset and disoriented by all the guests, commotion and celebrations. So he planned for the next set of holidays, a shorter visit in a quiet part of the host's home. He had coached attendees on the plan and explained how the previous holiday's bustle had been upsetting. Loved ones rallied around the both of them. 

Thanks to the Alzheimer's Association, who offers workshops and trainings for elders, their loved ones and professionals.

Many thanks to those elders and their loved ones who have shared their own struggles and successes during these workshops. You inspire and humble me. And it's a special time we share together, when we transform from workshop participants to a community of collaborators and supporters. Beautiful. Thank you all ~


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