Most of the people I interacted with appeared disoriented and confused; however they were suffering from a bonafide condition, Alzheimer's. For example, when working in group activities I often had to repeat the instructions several times. Not because the patients I was working with weren't smart enough to comprehend the instructions the first time, but because their brain functioning had been altered as a result of the progression of the disease.
Most of the elderly at the center were capable of remaining physically active and in moments of clarity when I had discussions with patients most seemed capable of grasping the most basic intellectual concepts and human emotions.
Alzheimer's as described in the text is a degenerative brain disorder. It gradually causes deterioration in ones memory, awareness and their ability to control bodily functions (Gebo, 2004). Irritability, restlessness and impairments of judgment are not uncommon (Gebo, 2004).
One thing became very clear during the visits with patients at the center. The elderly, no matter their cognitive functioning or state of awareness, just as anyone else require companionship, understanding and compassion. Take the case of the gentleman who missed his wife that no longer visited. The obvious distress and grief this person was experiencing was evident in his every day actions. Likewise, the individual I consulted with on the west side experienced similar grief.
Undoubtedly as with anyone it is critical to address these emotions with all patients regardless of their mental function and capacity, to ensure they are given every opportunity to experience life to the fullest potential possible.
Personal, Professional Experiences
Overall I feel my experiences working with Alzheimer's patients at Legacy Gardens impacted me in a positive manner. Up until this point in time I had always considered the state of affairs for elderly individuals as something foreign or distant. It was as if the elderly were an entirely different breed.
I also must admit some fear of working with the elderly initially. When I first started participating in group activities, I thought I would have a member of the trained staff there to assist me. Much to my surprise and eventual delight however, I was left on my own to interact with patients and develop a relationship with each of the patients.
Interacting with each member of the group was much like interaction with anyone else, with the exception that cognitive impairments were evident among group members, and I often had to repeat myself. One of the biggest things I learned from a personal and professional standpoint was the importance of demonstrating compassion, patience and understanding. A majority of the patients I worked with did not required that I do anything more than simply listen to them. Many had been separated from society for so long; they seemed to live in their own complex world of experiences and relationships. Most of the time when they had cognizant moments they preferred to simply reminisce about the way things used to be.
What I also learned was that much like anyone else, they needed daily stimulation and interaction in order to survive and thrive to the best of their ability. Some group activities I led were obviously more popular than others, but regardless of the actual activity I found many of the same elements of competitiveness, fun and relaxation that one would find interacting with any other person.
The most significant thing I will take away from this learning experience is the need to have patience and understanding. Also that isolation does not benefit anyone, and that to as great an extent as possible, many of these facilities are beneficial because they work to provide patients with a warm, supportive and nurturing environment that is not isolated and distant. This is an essential component to happiness for any individual, regardless of their mental state or wellness.
I will take away from this experience courage as well. Particularly the courage to face unknown situations, and to jump right in with an open mind and well intentioned spirit.
Gebo, L. "Biological Systems and their Impacts on Later Adulthood." Chapter 14. New