What is it about the love of babies and animals anyway, specifically when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease? Is it because there are no preconceived beliefs? No judgment? Only acceptance? Is it because the individual suffering from the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease is said to have the comprehension of a 3-5 year old due to brain shrinkage?
Most people feel they would love to have their childhood back, if only to look at the world through a child’s eyes. Although Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive debilitating disease, childlike qualities can shine through, but remembering that these people are adults is crucial. And with adulthood comes a past. I’ve always said that ‘it’s not the disease that defines the person, in fact, it’s quite the opposite’. Repeatedly, I tried to tell as many staff I could Mom’s personal history. I wanted them to know she was a ‘sweet’ lady who loved people and cared deeply. I wanted them to know she had a husband who had passed away year’s prior, and 2 children who made her entire world complete. Sure she had quirks (don’t we all?), but there were ways to work with and around those quirks. She just needed one on one time and companionship. She needed to feel loved and relevant. Isn’t that what we, as people, all want but more categorically need? It’s a travesty to know we treat our elderly and individuals living in long-term care with such scorn. Don’t get me wrong; most of the people who work in long-term care are exceptional at their jobs, there are just not enough of them. Staffing is at it’s lowest, most of the staff are part-time workers, and some barely make it by on a very low wage. Many staff (Personal Support Workers and Recreation) carry separate jobs at more than one facility in order to get by.
Society needs to take a long and very hard look at how our elderly are treated. Ageism is not just a word, it is a reality; A reality that none of us can escape. The lessons we can learn from seniors are wide and varied. We can learn what to do, and in some cases, what not to do. In essence just because these individuals no longer have jobs, doesn’t mean they cannot teach the rest of us important life lessons, yes even if they suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Patience, communication, body language, music, laughter; all of these qualities still reside in the person suffering from the disease. Let’s not forget them, even if we think, they have forgotten us.