Life at the Home - an Alzheimer Journey

The seats were beginning to fill up at gate K7 in Chicago's O'Hare airport.  I was recently waiting for a flight to Los Angeles to see my son. I watch crowded hallways with anxious travelers scurrying to make their connections and was reminded of all the trips that Jerry and I had taken together. In fact, I  remember the exact place where we were sitting, when a cart drove by carrying  the famous Mohammed Ali.  Jerry jumped up out of his seat and reached out to shake his hand.  Ali graciously accepted the handshake.

Things are different now.  But, look at all the memories!

Life at the home is simple.  Simple is good for Alzheimer patients.  Jerry's body is stiff so it is a challenge just to lift a foot to put on a pant leg or put an arm into a sleeve.  Such things as these we healthy people take for granted.

Jerry lives in a secured memory unit that is attached to an assisted living facility. There is one long hallway with bedrooms on each side.  The dining room, activity room, and nurses station are in the center.   It's a cozy place, with warm and caring staff members, and very energetic activity directors.

To a person who is well, that setting would seem like a prison.  I can understand that.  But to an Alzheimer patient, the small setting is very secure and creates a sense of comfort. The routine schedule helps eliminate confusion and chaos that so often sends them into a state of fear and resistance.

Jerry's  day usually begins with a shower and shave, then breakfast at 7:30am.  Music plays to prompt the residents that it's meal time.  Once the music begins, the residents slowly begin to move toward the dining hall where each person has their assigned seats.  Jerry usually is snapping his fingers to the music.  There is usually a staff member at each table to assist in the eating process.

After breakfast, many of the residents go to the main activity room to take an early morning nap.  Usually every morning there are activities like  dancing, exercise, games, or singing.  Some residents are not able to participate because of the progression of their disease, but those who are able, often go on scenic tours around town.

Hospice has been ordered for Jerry, so he also receives visits from a social worker, nurse, CNA, volunteer, chaplain and a doctor.

Jerry is particularly attached to Tom, the maintenance man.  He's tall, like Jerry, about the same age, and easy going.  They are  frequently referred to as the "Tom and Jerry show".   Many times you'll find Jerry walking around with Tom, "changing light bulbs".  There's a certain positive perk when an Alzheimer patient is allowed to contribute.  It makes them feel valued and respected.

Most of the time, activities are held in the morning.  Once the afternoon begins to set in Alzheimer patients often experience "sun-downers".  Sun downers, in layman's terms, happens late in the day, when they are tired.  They can get confused, tired, and agitated so probably the that's the time when a rest would be a good thing.  Dinner begins at 4:30.  Then TV, then bed.

Like I said.  Things are different now.