Nov 17, 2013

Those People

We were working in a memory support center one day when we noticed two women crying at a table. We went over to them to ask if there was something we could to do to help.

By Tom and Karen Brenner
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

Amazing Grace

We were working in a memory support center one day when we noticed two women crying at a table. We went over to them to ask if there was something we could to do to help. One woman exclaimed,

“We drove fifty miles to come and visit our friend who is living here now. We have known each other all of our lives; we grew up together and raised our families together. Now, she doesn’t want to visit with us. She wants to be with those people.”

Related Content

We looked over to the table where the woman was pointing and saw a table of people who were working on one of the exercises that we brought into the center.

We invited the visitors to come with us and join the table of those people.

They declined, saying that they felt nervous around those people and that they would just drive the fifty miles back home. We encouraged them to just come and see what was going on before they left. Anyway, didn’t they want to say good bye to their good friend?

After some cajoling, we convinced the two women to accompany us to the table and see what those people were up to. The exercise we had introduced to the group sitting around the table at the memory support center was a book that we created for them. It was large binder that was full of games, readings and memory exercises based on farm life. Because the memory support center was located in a rural place, we thought that this sort of work would resonate with people living there.

We made a good guess! The group around the table was having a great time answering questions like,

“How many eggs would a hen lay per day? Is the answer 10, 3 or 1?”

The group of men and women were also enjoying reading aloud poems and short stories about farm life. There were a lot of spontaneous stories from the group about their own experiences on the farm, and lots of laughter.

The two visitors were encouraged to take chairs and be comfortable. They sat on the outside edge of the group, at first just listening and closely watching their friend.

Then, one of the two visitors chimed in with a funny story about the underwear her mother made out of seed potato and flour sacks. That caused a flood of memories and laughter from the group. Suddenly, the visitors were part of the conversation and laughter about farm life. The two visitors were now part of those people. They understood now that those people, people living with Alzheimer’s, were people who shared similar memories, similar stories and similar lives.

As the two women gathered their belongings to leave that day, they hugged their old friend good bye, promising to come and visit soon and often.

They turned to us as they started to leave and told us that when their friend had moved into the memory support center, they didn’t know how to treat her, or how to talk to her. Now, they were full of plans to bring their high school albums and other photographs from their past.

They said that they would bring in some old favorite recipes to read together and records from their high school days to listen to (and maybe dance to) together.

As they left that day, they were full of ideas and looking forward to coming back to visit with those people.

*Tom and Karen Brenner train family members, professional caregivers and medical staff in the use of cutting edge interventions for persons who have dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Brenners use the Montessori Method as the foundation for their evidence based memory support program. This program uses the five senses, muscle memory, and spiritual engagement to maintain connections for persons with memory loss. Tom and Karen are the authors of You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello: The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care

Original content +Bob DeMarco , the Alzheimer's Reading Room