Although there are many, one of my favorite parts about working in LTC is learning about our residents and their personal history. I love hearing about their past- having them paint a picture for me about their childhood, their families, their experiences & adventures...their life story. Listening to them talk about their lives is fascinating, remarkable, heartbreaking & heart warming.
I love looking through their family photos with them. I love to see pictures of their wedding day, their homes, where they grew up and hearing about their cherished memories of a life well lived. When you work with people with dementia, you never know when it will be your last chance to really know them. I try to learn as much as possible and ask as many questions as I can.
I remember a resident that I became very attached to when I first started working here... She had advanced dementia and couldn't recall the names of her husband & children, what year it was or what she did for work. I would jump at the chance to visit with her in her moments of mental clarity, knowing they were rare. As her dementia advanced, those moments seemed to happen less and less. In the last few months of her life she slept a lot. When I had her at groups she mostly had her eyes shut and barely spoke. Even though her memory was absent, I still loved to hear her talk.
One day, during a Sensory Group, I was reading to a group of residents (her included) from Reminisce magazine. I remember this day as though it was yesterday. The short story was about a young couple buying their first home in St. Paul, Minnesota after he returned from the Korean War. As I was reading, this resident blurted out an address. I stopped reading, and asked her what the address was? She replied "I don't know." I didn't even realize she was listening because her eyes had been tightly shut. As I continued to read, she interrupted several more times, blurting out the same address, but still couldn't tell me why. I wrote it down.
I googled the address and realized it was only about 2 miles away from where I lived in St. Paul. I decided to take a detour on my way home. I saw this very old house....chipped paint, missing shingles, cracked foundation... I imagine the only thing holding up its walls were years and years of past occupants memories and their many life stories. One of those stories belonged to my resident. Something about this old house was so significant that she had the memory of it even though she couldn't remember some of the most important things in her life- like the names of her husband & children. I took a picture.
The next day during Sensory Group, I was determined to find out about this house. Why was it so important to her? I was happy to find her awake and looking out the window. I pulled up a chair and greeted her, she squeezed my hand and smiled back. I showed her the picture. Her smile grew as she looked at it and repeated the address. I asked her "Whose house was this?" She replied, "It was my house with Eugene. He bought it for us after he came home from the war." She went on to remember several other things and I remember trying to ask as many questions as I could. I knew it was more than likely she wouldn't remember our conversation the next day, and she didn't. I'm glad I was able to hear a little piece of her life story when I had the chance.