Scrapbooks a gift to Alzheimer’s patients

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3/1/2007 10:08:59 AM
By Anne Polta

West Central Tribune

WILLMAR, Minn. — The pages of Bethesda Pleasant View’s scrapbooks capture a wealth of memories: birthdays, Halloween parties, daily happenings, residents past and present.

When Rachel Hacker hands one of the books to residents of the memory care unit, “they can sit and look at it for hours,” she said.

It’s one of the ways in which the staff of the memory care unit tries to preserve the happy times and foster a sense of belonging for residents whose minds have been robbed by Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders.

“It really shows that even though Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease, given the right stimulus it really can be beautiful,” said Lynae Whitmore, the supervising nurse for the unit. “These people still have a quality of life, and it shows in these pictures.”

Hacker, a certified nursing assistant, spent months — on her own time and mostly with her own money — compiling the scrapbooks.

She’s close to completing the second book and is ready to start on a third.

Hacker developed an interest in scrapbooking through a cousin who owns Creative Memories. Inspired by the array of scrapbooking products that were available, she decided to complete a scrapbook that had been started for the memory care unit when it opened in late 2005.

Within a week she had the book filled and started on another.

“Every page is different,” said Hacker as she leafed through the book.

On one page, decorative orange pumpkins share space with photos of the memory care residents having a Halloween party. On another, residents and staff hug and smile for the camera.

A recent donation in honor of Hacker’s grandfather, Archie Bowman, who was a resident of Bethesda Pleasant View and died in October, allowed the memory care unit to buy a digital camera. It also created a fund to help pay for the scrapbooks and products that Hacker previously bought on her own.

Hacker updates the scrapbook once a month, often incorporating new ideas she picks up from scrapbooking retail products or workshops.

“I like doing it. I can sit at the same table for hours and get 20 pages done,” she said.

As she became more involved in the project, Hacker began creating a page for each resident and customizing it to reflect their lives and interests — for instance, apples and blackboards for a resident who used to be a teacher, cut-outs of dogs for someone who’s fond of dogs.

“We’ve been doing that every time a new resident comes in,” Whitmore said. “Every one of them is unique and special.”

Several families have asked for copies of the photos, she said. “Families love it.”

Bethesda has worked to make its memory care unit less institutional and more home-like, and having photo albums “is just natural,” Whitmore said.

People with Alzheimer’s or related dementia disorders often disappear from family photographs because no one is taking their picture, she noted.

Yet these residents still enjoy being photographed, she said. “They like the attention. It’s nice to capture the good days they have because they don’t always have good days.”

The staff also has found that paging through the scrapbook can be very calming for residents, especially during times of agitation.

“This book is very therapeutic for them,” Whitmore said. “They recognize the people they’re surrounded by. They recognize themselves. They like to look at the bright colors. It provides a sense of comfort to them.”

The memories are beneficial for the staff as well.

Fourteen of the residents whose pictures appear in the scrapbooks have since died, Hacker said.

The photo albums are “a good memory for us of who has been here and who has passed away,” she said.

The staff and residents of the memory care unit are close-knit and often form strong bonds, Whitmore said.

“It’s just a family,” she said. “These people are special. Just because they can’t think right doesn’t mean their life is over. They don’t need to be pitied. There’s a lot of love there. They have quality of life.”

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