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6 Things that Nursing Home Residents With Alzheimer’s Taught Me

From my freshman year to senior year of high school, spending time with the elderly at one of my hometown’s local nursing homes was a significant part of my life. I first began as a volunteer in the activities program, and I helped entertain the residents through pastimes such as music, movies, games, and crafts. Then, in the summer going into my junior year, I transitioned to employee status, and I continued doing mostly the same tasks, just with a few more responsibilities. Throughout my time working with the residents, I had the opportunity to learn a great deal about them, and to this day, though I am not as close with them as I once was, I am grateful for this experience. 

Now, though I learned a lot about the residents, there’s something else I was constantly doing my best to understand: Alzheimer’s disease. 

For any of you who know someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s, you know that this is no easy task. In the world of Alzheimer’s, there are good days, and there are bad days. There are days where you laugh and enjoy yourself, and then there are days where you feel like crying and can’t help but feel sorry for this person. There are days where patience is natural, and there are days where it doesn’t come as easy. There are days where you have hope, and there are days where you are ready to give up. 

But, guess what? You never do. 

brain/mind/memory being erased
In my time working with the residents and Alzheimer’s, I can’t begin to tell you the number of lessons I learned from them – from patience, to courage, to time, to love, to compassion, to humor, and so much more. However, though I cannot identify each one, allow me to give you 6 of the most memorable lessons that no one could ever place a price tag on: 

Finding the humor in situations (regardless of how bizarre they may be) is the key to success.
Kellyn Simpkin-Girl Hat Eyes Smile
Kellyn Simpkin / Her Campus

Working in healthcare, finding humor in any situation, including the most random, is sometimes the only way you can successfully get through the day. For example, one time, a particular resident unexpectedly began singing “God Bless America” aloud in the middle of another song during a religious service. In this case, most people would find this to be a sad situation because this resident was “not with it” or “just in her own little world,” but given how happy and carefree she was to be singing her favorite song, all you can do is laugh with her and join her in her party she created. 

Form close relationships; you’ll need them far more than you think someday. 

Yes, many of the residents’ family and friends come to visit them, but there are also many other residents who do not have such relationships. While you’re young — and continue to do this throughout your life — form as many bonds as you can, regardless of if you like people’s company or not; you will be thankful for them someday and desire to see them, especially on Christmas Day in 2090.

Go outside! 
sandals sidewalk flowers
Tessa Pesicka / Her Campus

On hot summer days, nothing brings the residents more joy than being able to go outside and get some fresh air. Trust me, while you’re young and do not require permission to go outside or someone to be with you to watch over you, get outside and do something fun — you won’t regret it, I promise. 

    Know what it is that you enjoy. 

    Even though most residents with Alzheimer’s can’t identify on the tip of their tongue what their hobbies are, they know deep in their hearts, and this helps ease them when the not so good days come around. For some of them, it was singing a song. For others, it was playing cards. And for others, it was something as simple as drinking a cup of tea. Find things that bring you happiness, my friends – you’ll appreciate them even more someday. 

    Life really can go by in the blink of an eye. 

    One day, you’re fighting on the front lines in World War II, and the next, you’re watching your country fall apart through the lens of a television without knowing how fast it’s crumbling. Or, one day you’re raising a family, and the next you won’t leave from beside your phone hoping that your children call you to see how you’re doing. Or, maybe you’re just simply an independent person, and then you require help for every task you desire to accomplish. It sounds cliche, but appreciate the present: it doesn’t last forever. 

    A little ice cream never hurt nobody. 
    The Lalaice Cream Cone
    Her Campus

    Enough said. 

    Like I said earlier, I am not as close with the residents as I once was, but the contributions and impact each of them made on my life is something I couldn’t have imagined five years ago. I would encourage anyone to spend some more time with the elderly, especially those with Alzheimer’s. I know that sometimes younger people do not care to talk to the elderly because of generational differences, and I completely understand that. However, if you discuss beyond your opinions, you may be surprised as to what you could find out about someone — and sometimes, yourself. 

    person standing wide toward mountains
    Nina Uhlíková

    Ellia Flejtuch is a freshman at Michigan State University studying Dietetics and Psychology. Following graduating from MSU, she hopes to be a registered dietitian and work with individuals who suffer from eating disorders as well as those who generally struggle with their relationships with food and their bodies. She also hopes to one day start her own non-profit organization. Also, outside of academics, she enjoys writing articles, cooking, baking, watching Netflix, going on jogs and nature walks, listening to music, and drinking lots of tea. xoxo
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