Gennie Waters has a special moment with her friend Maxine.
“I am a Bridge!” Gennie exclaims, who learned how to “be with” Maxine and how vital being together is to her and Maxine’s lives, regardless of cognitive capacities.
“We may not communicate in the same way but our time together is just as special to me as always,” Gennie said. “Some days when I visit, Maxine does not recognize me and that’s OK. Other days I can see her light up as soon as she sees me. That’s the special part. At first, I thought I was helping her but then I realized she was helping me learn patience. This has changed my life.”
Memory Bridge training at Sunny View is funded by resident Jean Eckert through Sunny View Foundation and spearheaded by Sunny View Chaplain Pastor Carol Been. About 15 staff members, residents, family members and volunteers participated in the initial training that teaches non-verbal ways of empathic communication, or ways of “being with” people with cognitive impairment. The techniques are meant to combat emotional isolation that often affects those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
According to the training course, one of the biggest mistakes people can make is to stop communicating with those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia because of the erroneous belief that they are “gone.” This counter productive approach to communicating with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia not only negatively impacts the individual living with memory loss by making them feel lonely and depressed, but it also deprives those who have stopped communicating from learning valuable lessons from these individuals, like the importance of presence and patience.
Chia-Liang Li visits his Memory Bridge “buddy” at Summer House at least once a week. “We are both Chinese and both Christian so we have that in common,” Chia-Liang said. “I just don’t want her to be lonely. I do the best I can to let her know I care about her and her son appreciates that.”
“A one-on-one approach is the focus,” said Sunny View Volunteer Coordinator Julia Earley, who participated in the training and visits her buddy Marie, regularly. “We learn to be in the moment and let our buddies guide us during our visit. Sometimes a simple touch is all that’s necessary to get a positive response.”
With additional funding from the Sunny View Foundation, Sunny View hopes to expand training to more volunteers.