‘They’ll never forget how you made them feel.’: Assisted Living employee’s touching account of her Alzheimer’s patients 

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“People will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

When telling others that you work at an assisted living facility, the response is almost always the same, varying from a “ how is it?,” to “that must be tough.” Once you add that the facility is mainly for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, forget it! I understand because, before working at this facility, I was under a similar impression.

Early this January, I began working at an Assisted Living and Memory Care Facility. Prior to beginning this new endeavor, I had no previous experience working with the geriatric population; nevermind with those who suffered from memory loss. Days leading up to my start date I began to feel nervous, even intimidated. The only knowledge I had of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia’s was from a two-credit service learning class my senior year of college. I distinctly remember my professor saying almost every class that ‘When you meet a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you’ve only met one person with Alzheimer’s or dementia.’ Four months later, this statement couldn’t ring more true.

As a Program Services Assistant, my responsibilities are similar to a recreation therapist, which allows me to create and facilitate daily activities for the residents. Trying to engage and stimulate as many as 25 residents at a time, at all different levels of function, was challenging, and some days even a struggle. What I quickly learned was that my struggle could not even compare to theirs.

On an average day, there is a resident calling for her dog that has been deceased for years, and another who says they need to drive the family car home before their parents notice it’s missing. Then there is a resident trying to leave to catch the next train to a home that is no longer theirs, and one who thinks that the dining room is the bathroom and thus pulls down their pants to move their bowels, while sitting and eating their afternoon meal. So no, my daily struggles do NOT compare to theirs.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are cruel. They take so much away from a person who was once living a life similar to our own. These residents at one point were educators who taught our children, soldiers who served our country, postal workers, physicians, librarians and the list goes on. Now, thanks to this terrible disease that has attacked their minds, they struggle with completing normal daily tasks. However, contrary to what many may believe, Alzheimer’s disease is not always sad.

The same group of people who I see every day that cannot remember my name, can remember every lyric to a “Bicycle Built for Two” or “Sentimental Journey.” They can teach me how to play “Happy Birthday” on the piano, and they are quick to give me the recipe of their favorite dish to cook. To sum it up in a word, daily, I am amazed.

The residents may not remember my name, or the activities we did earlier in the day, but they do remember that they were cared for, they remember that someone took the time to listen to them, and they remember that someone looked beyond their debilitating disease and saw a person.

Now, I have never seen a quote that has proven to be more true: “People will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

Elderly hand holding hand of assisted living employee
Alyssa Jacavone

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alyssa Jacavone. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

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