Moving into an Alzheimer’s Care Center before I “need” to
It’s been nearly 10 months since I have done an immersion project; it really felt to put myself in a situation to feel what its like to be a resident into Arden Courts which is an Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Center last Tuesday.
This is the fifth time I have attempted to put myself in resident’s shoes, as in the others I was not pretending to have any disabilities. My goal is to experience this environment as a healthy 45 year old. Given the unique specialization of this community, I was anxious to experience this environment armed with the perspective I gained from the Virtual Dementia Tour.
My wife completed all of my paperwork and accompanied me to my arrival at the community. I was immediately greeted by staff and directly integrated into an activity session with other residents.
Here are some of my immediate thoughts and observations, I will elaborate more on some in future posts:
Helping Your Neighbors – I consciously decided that I would limit my “helping” other residents in this visit. I didn’t want the feeling that I was taking on the role of staff which would change my perspective during this short stay. I was pleased to see how many residents were engaged in helping their fellow residents, assisting with the activities. This is the community spirit that I have observed in all of my stays that makes these wonderful “neighborhoods.” It wasn’t easy not helping out! I am pretty sure that if I ever become a “real” resident that I will want to have jobs to do around the community and help out whenever I can to have a sense of purpose.
Conversations – I have limited knowledge on the techniques and training for communicating with those that have dementia and I will admit that I was a bit nervous engaging in my first conversations with residents. As I became more comfortable, I really enjoyed just talking about anything on my mind. I found conversations with most to be very “normal” and very enjoyable. The more enthusiam I would show, the more was returned. There were times where people would “forget” things that we just talked about . . . but I am used to that with my kids! Just like any community, school or business office I met people with a variety of personalities.
Settling in to a new perspective – After several hours in the community I felt much more comfortable than I ever had in my previous visits to Memory Care Centers. I feel that this has to do with getting to know the residents, understanding the layout of the community, and just imagining myself as a “peer” and not staff or a visitor.
Living with “Filters” – In some ways I was kind of envious of my new friends living without the “filter” that regulates our behavior. This was emphasized when I joined two ladies on a walk around the community. The three of us walked hand in hand on the secure outdoor walking path, they were both speaking what sounded like two different made up languages. They both had smiles on their faces that were contagious – I tried my best to join in their chatter – but years of living with a “filter” made it difficult. I know that if one of these women were my parent it might be difficult to handle. Viewing this from my new perspective there was something beautiful about their behavior that made me more receptive and relaxed.
A Place to be Creative – I feel like this could be a wonderful environment to be creative, I would have loved to have a canvas or some clay to create some art during my stay. I feel like its an environment where its alright to be as creative as I would want to be. There are many initiatives to engage elders living in their environments in creative arts, I am wondering if there are any artists that have set up a temporary studio in a community.
As someone who has been around many individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s I am surprised at how much I gained from my time at Arden Courts. I give a lot of credit to the Virtual Dementia Tour in making the experience more meaningful and the staff at Arden Courts for making the experience as authentic as possible.
I know that moves like these are not “perfect” but they are much better than what I was doing before which is pretending that I know what its like to be in a residents shoes. I will try to share more insights and ideas about my experience in my next posts.