Visiting with my mom yesterday, I was reflecting on the fact that she’s one of the most joy-filled people I know. People living with Alzheimer’s disease are no different than other older adults in many respects. Mom led a rich life with many talents, hobbies, strengths, and weaknesses that make her unique. She raised five children with love and strictness at the same time. She was a soloist at church and always called herself a tomboy. She loved to play sports of all kinds and she never missed a chance to make someone feel good. Today, she still loves to sing, shoot a basketball, play ping pong, and say “You’re awesome!” and “Way to go!” to those around her. Now that she is living in a Memory Care community, she regularly says those phrases to her care partners and neighbors, whether it’s during dinner or a game of balloon volleyball. She has said the phrase “You’re awesome!” so frequently through the years to her children and grandchildren that one of my nephews has it tattooed on his inner arm in her handwriting.
Mom also practices gratitude and has an attitude of flexibility. You will often hear her punctuate anything good with the phrase “Thank you, Jesus”. Routine and consistency is very helpful for those living with dementia and thankfully, her current setting provides that for her, however, whenever there are unavoidable changes, she is quick to say “We just have to roll with it!”
When visiting, it’s fun to watch her as I walk down the hallway and wait for the moment when she sees me coming. Her eyes light up and she is filled with joy and recognition. She is quick to (re)introduce me to everyone and…tell them how awesome I am! I know that her joyful and nurturing spirit has a positive impact on her community.
Living with dementia can include much joy and a great capacity to give and receive love. My husband has a theory that our core personality characteristics often intensify as we age. Just as with younger adults, everyone’s different – some are crabby, some are shy, some are adventurous, some are bossy, and some are smiley, etc. Mom is joyful and stands ready to brighten the day of those around her with encouraging words.
How about you? What are the character traits that most describe you today? Are these traits that you hope intensify as you age? What characteristics do you want your children and grandchildren to use to describe you in the future? Maybe there are words, phrases, or traditions that you want to use more intentionally going forward to reinforce the character traits you most want to intensify as you age.
It’s not easy trying to be our best selves! If you need to hear this today, let me tell you that YOU’RE AWESOME!
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