In the summer of 2015, I took a random job at a nursing home. They needed a part-time receptionist and it was close to my house. I had visited the location a few times in high school around the holidays when musical ensembles I had been a part of had organized concerts for the residents. That was my knowledge of the institution.
During my interview, I was asked if I knew the nursing home was an all-dementia nursing home. I did not because apparently in the summer of 2015, I was blissfully unaware to the fact that you should do some research before applying to a job. Regardless, I got the position and was happy to report to duty on my first day.
I thought it would just be a normal summer job. I thought I would work really hard and do my best and return for my last semester of college at the end of the season. I had no idea the many ways this home would shape me.
I quickly fell in love with each and every one of my residents. I got to know their families. I knew which movie was their favorite and I knew who liked Bingo and who didn’t. I could tell you who liked to play cards and who preferred to have their nails painted. These residents became like a crew of secondary grandparents. And I loved them.
But as I mentioned, it was an all-dementia nursing home, which is to say that some days were more emotionally exhausting then others. When I signed my hiring papers, I explained that I didn’t have very much, if any, experience working with people with dementia. In my short time there, I learned so much, saw the devastating effects of the disease with no cure, and became extremely passionate about the cause.
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month and something I’d like to shine a light on today. I could write about how dementia is the overarching umbrella term used for memory loss. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia. I could tell you that Alzheimer’s Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States or that it’s the only cause of death among the top ten that cannot be prevented or cured. I could tell you that there are over 5 million individuals living with Alzheimer’s in the United States. But statistics only do so much.
Instead, I want to tell you about woman with four PhDs who was so physically active and strong but completely nonverbal. She would walk around and hold my hand and listen to my stories, but she never formed a sentence that made sense.
I want to tell you about the man in a wheelchair. He was often times very quiet but occasionally would lash out and swear and yell and scream profanities at me for no discernable reason. His family told me they never knew him to be an angry person.
I want to tell you about the woman who had the kindest personality but would ask me every 2 minutes what time it was. She would ask when dinner was shortly after she had eaten. Her husband came to visit every day after work. He would sit with her and after they had eaten together, he would head home – no words I could say to comfort that kind of heartache as he signed out at my desk.
I want to tell you about the man who taught me how to dance. If there wasn’t something on the television, the lobby was always filled with old music. I had a resident who was quick on his feet and insisted on teaching me to dance. He seemed so vibrant and healthy. A few months after I had returned to college, I stopped back at the home for a visit to find he had passed.
As I type this, I find myself tearing up – an involuntary response that comes from pure love. You see, the nursing home quickly ceased being “just a summer job” and quickly became one of the most profound experiences of my life. The people I visited with and looked after weren’t just residents. They were my family and I loved each of them so deeply.
To learn more or to donate, please visit: https://www.alz.org/