My dad will be 85 in a couple of weeks. He is in good physical health, and well taken care of at the Harbor Care program of Putnam Farm in Massachusetts. He has lived there for about 4 years, and has made various friends, all of whom have dementia, as Dad does. His co-residents are at different stages physically, emotionally, and cognitively. He has a friend Katherine whom he spends a lot of time with; both had spouses for some 50 years who have passed away. They have been good companions, but some days they are at odds, as Alzheimer’s robs them of words and makes them agitated or sad.
The staff at Putnam Farm is amazing. Imagine working day-to-day with people who are old, who are in declining health with failing bodies and minds. The staff treats the residents with dignity, even as the residents are inconsistent with responses, gratitude, moods, and abilities. The Harbor residents are often only there for a short time. Local hospice workers come in and conduct lovely memorial services for those who have died, even as some residents are unaware of who is alive, who is gone. Loss is the norm.
Dad needs help these days with sequencing–the ability to put your clothes on in the right order, or to take a shower the right way. He doesn’t remember the field trips, or the pizza, or the holiday parties. He sometimes gets sarcastic and mean, as a way of dealing with the puzzling changes in his brain. He sometimes misuses words, and sometimes just can’t find the right ones.
The head nurse of the Harbor Care program is Beth Burridge. She works with all the residents, monitors their health/medication needs, intervenes when residents are unhappy or uncooperative, and assesses the services each one requires. She recently sent me this email:
I have completed your dad’s most recent assessments & service plan. They are ready for you to review & sign.
I know your dad is doing a lot of compensating conversationally & socially but, as with all the residents I come to know, there is an awareness that is able to come out from time to time. When I asked him to write a sentence, he obliged & when I read it, I was taken aback & thanked him. He said, “You have a very hard job.”
I attached the sentence to the back of the service plan. It is very touching, and made me feel very fortunate.
Harbor Care Director
Putnam Farm @ Danvers
There is so much to be grateful for, even as we struggle with what seems overwhelming or unfair. Sometimes there are these moments of light and clarity, and we need to treasure them.