Alzheimer’s touched my life when I was a young woman not only raising my own children but providing day care services for infants through school aged youngsters at a nursing home. When I was Director for a nursing home based Child Care Center, my grandmother came to live at the facility when her forgetfulness reached a point that home support was no longer enough. Through the foresight of an organization that designed a Dementia Specialty Care Community, I developed intergenerational programs between the residents and the children, that fostered companionship, independence, and love.
As my life’s journey brought me into the public school system, I eventually became the Project Explore (gifted program) teacher for 4th and 5th graders as well as developing enrichment programs for all students in the town of Wolcott’s elementary schools. One year a group of my Project Explore students chose Alzheimer’s disease as their initiative. The students became pen pals and planned activities with elderly residents in a local assisted living facility. Their final activity was making hand-made fleece blankets to deliver to their older pals at the Assisted Living Dementia Care Community. The students had developed relationships with the residents and designed each blanket with their special person in mind. Three children stand out during this experience – the little girl who was the image of her aunt, who happened to be a resident there, as she wrapped her blanket around her; the shy boy who was hesitant to enter the room but eventually gave his partner his homemade blanket, a smile and a shoulder hug; and the young lady whose partner was actively dying. We talked about death and dying and my student assured me that she wanted to visit her elderly friend on our “blanket delivery day”. I looked on with tears brimming in my eyes as she gently placed her gift on her pen pal. The resident passed away the next day with her hand-made fleece blanket from this ten year old girl keeping her warm and loved.
In recent years, the Student Council at Wakelee Elementary School has raised funds for the Alzheimer’s Association and this fall students and their family members will be forming a team for The Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Rentschler Field.
And my journey of raising awareness and providing support continues…