My first day as activities coordinator in the secure dementia wing of a rest home didn’t go quite as smoothly as I would have wished. One resident decided he didn’t like the look of me, and in fact became quite upset. I don’t know if it was because I was new, or a man, or both, but he wasn’t going to stand for me being around.
Fortunately, over the next days at work he must have changed his mind about me, and would sometimes offer me his hand to shake, which made me feel good. I read up about him in his file, and found he used to be a craftsman. It was hard to maintain a conversation with him, so one day I took in something from home I hoped might be of interest to him. It was my socket set, which for those of you who don't know, is a tool, rather like a spanner, in which you attach different sized heads to a handle and ratchet to tighten or loosen nuts and bolts.
Each of the heads has a number engraved on the side, indicating what size nut or bolt it would fit. My friend was fascinated by the numbers on the sockets, holding them in front of him and reading the numbers aloud. It felt like success. It felt great.
In a similar vein was another man who had been an architect. I took in my Dad’s very old slide rule to look at. A slide rule seems archaic to us now, if you’ve even heard of one - it was basically the precursor to the electronic calculator. It was another success, and promoted some reminiscing for a minute or two. In the big scheme of things our interaction didn’t last long, but it felt like another success.
Reminiscing is important for some people living with dementia. With one lady I used a pack of cards known as The Art Of Conversation, which gave me the means, an introduction, to having chats with her about her childhood, her school life, etc. Another lady chats quite happily about her experiences, but does get confused a little, believing her family built the rest home building and gardens. Another elderly lady sometimes believes she is expected home by her parents or grandparents. I have learned from my fantastic caregiver colleagues to calm the residents’ fears or worries without casting doubt on their version of reality.
Each resident is an individual, so each of their versions of reality can be unique. It is quite a challenge finding a way to actively engage each of them. Making these connections, even just for a fleeting moment, makes every effort feel worthwhile.
Last week I read a funny animal poem to a resident. I hadn’t been sure what his reaction would be, but he chuckled at all the funny punch-lines. Afterwards, feeling positive about his response, I offered to read him another poem. He declined. Sometimes something short and sweet does the job.
One person really likes jigsaw puzzles (24 piece), and is good at them, showing distinct pride in their completion. Another sometimes really enjoys the sorting game Qwirkle - but then other times can’t sit still long enough to concentrate on it.
Getting to know the variety of people in my unit has been really rewarding. It would be easy to keep writing about special moments spent with these amazing people. I hope I am making a difference in their lives - I know they have made a big difference to mine.
Recently, I was seated playing a game with one resident when another walked behind me using her walker, and kissed me on the neck. I felt special. I think it’s moments like this that enrich the working lives of caregivers, activities coordinators, and diversional therapists. It makes me proud to be one of them.