Over the last few months our Director of Education and Innovation, Jean Garboden, and I have traveled to several of Compass’ senior living communities to conduct training we call Caring is What Makes Us Human: Empathetic communication with those who have dementia. Its evolved into a powerful and engaging series of stories that reflect the more than 10 years we’ve been working to try to understand dementia and finding a better way to care for those who have it. Our employees are required to attend. It’s those that are not required to attend that inspire me.
For several of the trainings, we’ve had elders and family members join us. In one recent session, I was inspired looking out at the elders’ faces that were engaged in the conversation. They were there because they wanted to be. They aren’t afraid of knowing what Alzheimer’s or other dementias can do. And, with their presence, they are facing it head-on. Elders are the ones that may see this daily amongst their peers and wonder, “am I next”? And yet, they were the ones most interested in learning about how they can care, or at least understand, what it means and how to help others.
These elders inspire me because they are engaging in the conversation that most are too afraid to have. They are arming themselves with the knowledge that will help to eliminate fear. They are building understanding that those with dementia are still there and they are whole human beings to be loved, not feared. They are showing us that age, impairments, and change are not to be feared, but understood and accepted. The elders that engage in this conversation are quiet ambassadors to making a better elderhood for the rest of us that will eventually be there.
Like cancer, the movement to find a cure for Alzheimer’s is growing because most of us know, or have known, someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. If you haven’t yet, you will. By learning about dementia and how we can still communicate with those who have it, you participate in the movement to change the language around “locked units”. These are not prisoners to be locked away. They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, aunts, and uncles. They are in need of being safe and cared for, yes. But, they are not to be feared and avoided. They simply need us to look them in the eye, sing to them, dance with them, and know they still desire to be heard and understood.
As this new year starts please make a resolution that will make real change with one simple act. Resolve to learn more, participate in conversations, and try to understand Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Follow in these elders’ footsteps and learn what you can do to help just one individual. After all, caring is what makes us human.
About the Author:
Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with, and for, the people that care for others.