Joshua Cano

It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to have a bad day. If you’re mad, that’s also understandable. If you’re angry because maybe your mom has the disease, you can be angry. Just remember, that person is still there even if you might not see it.

July 20, 2020

As an activity leader, I essentially organize engaging and fun activities for the participants at the Rosener House. I try to plan activities that best relate to the seniors, and throughout the day I pick and play music that’s relevant to them, like Elvis Presley rather than Justin Bieber.

What we’ve noticed is how music is the one constant for the participants at the Rosener House, where even if they don’t interact socially, they still sing and are reminded of memories in the past. Music sparks emotional responses and provides brain stimulation to encourage cognitive function, and this is similar for art therapy too. 

When we know someone has painted and excelled or majored in the arts, we try to help exercise this muscle memory by encouraging these seniors to continue art. It’s really cool because we have participants who might not remember their past, but then create amazing artworks when sat in front of art supplies. 

I have never done anything like my work at Rosener House before I joined their staff. I felt like the energy and enthusiasm at Rosener House was super special and a perfect fit for me. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve had because it’s taught me so much.

Not only am I learning just to create fun activities, but I learn how to deal with someone who is not having a good day, someone who is afraid, someone who is having a panic attack, etc. You get to learn so many aspects of day-to-day life that I take from Rosener House and can use in my own life.

Outside of work, I know how to diffuse a situation, I recognize when someone maybe outside of work is showing those signs and symptoms, so I can de-escalate situations. 

At the Rosener House, I coordinate a schedule with three classes per block for 40-45 minutes, three times a day, so you essentially could come to Rosener House four days in a row and never take the same class twice.

I try to work around the participants, as they all have their own routines and hobbies within our general schedule as well. Some write, others mainly read all day, and some like their specific routine like sitting at a certain table and waiting for their friends.

As an activity coordinator and a caregiver, I try not to change their individual schedules and routines because it allows for the participants to have this security blanket in which they have their own little things that keep them whole.

We try to make sure that the activities are independent to that person- there isn’t one specific plan. For example, I notice how some people benefit from one-on-one conversations, while others enjoy alone time, and the rest enjoy each other’s company.

Besides the activities, we also have exercises. I make sure, however, that the exercises are done in chairs for safety. This way, our seniors can do low-impact exercises, with or without free weights, and again their workouts are pretty flexible because we modify and individualize the exercise to the participant.

When you coordinate activities, you have to constantly consider the person as well, and we really try to emphasize the inclusive and adaptive nature of our program and activities to each participant. 

I really try to focus on what makes the participants feel most comfortable and at home. I think the main difference between my work at the Rosener House vs an assisted living facility is how it’s temporary and allows for this more fun and magical experience.

The Rosener House is a safe place to go, but afterwards you still return home. In contrast, if you live in the same place in which you do activities, I think it kind of takes away from its magic.

I think I’d like to work in an assisted living facility if I could change things about it. From engaging with the participants at the Rosener House, I see the importance in separating the place where you live and the place where you engage with others, have fun, and unwind. 

The hardest part of my job is probably seeing their decline into someone they weren’t before. Of course, Alzheimer’s isn’t preventable but the deterioration is hard to see, especially when they forget my name.

We constantly keep their families in the loop and take note of little changes, because at some point it is more appropriate for that participant to move on to maybe an assisted living facility. We as caregivers often know more about the participant than the family, so we really try to communicate with and support the family as well.

The Rosener House as a whole is a pretty good resource for caregivers at home. We host a support group that meets once a week where caregivers and family members come and they can come and cry if they need to, because they’re surrounded by people who know exactly what they’re going through.

Being a caregiver is a tough and emotionally draining job, so we try to help give advice, connect them with other people for financial or medical concerns, and more. 

My favorite part of the job is just getting to know the people at Rosener House. They are such amazing people, and I’ve had some of my deepest conversations and laughs with the seniors there. Just because they have this disease does not mean the disease has them—the disease doesn’t define them.

Even through COVID-19 we have been able to keep them engaged and active through our online website, where we post videos of exercises, music, cooking lessons, and more. Similarly, we’ve just started facetime where I do one-on-one calls with those who can use Zoom.

Otherwise, we’ve been sending out letters and care packages to continue this interaction. It was a rough adjustment when COVID-19 happened because the Rosener House used to be that place for the participants to go, talk, and almost escape to, and it had to be closed because they were most at risk. However, as we continue our program online for now, we’ve really focused on technology to allow for participants to continue this interaction and maintain some sort of routine. 

For people who have family members with Alzheimer’s or dementia, I understand how hard it can be. One suggestion I have for conversations is to simply go into them with no expectation. Trying to pull a memory or prompt some kind of response isn’t helpful because if you are they get frustrated, the conversation can become pretty unproductive.

Rather, adapt to their verbal or nonverbal ways. You can converse with music in the background, and learn about their music taste and childhood from your parents too. Also, for the more nonverbal people, just providing them with companionship is enough. Maybe bring out a photo album, or somehow physically interact with them by either holding their hand or hugging them if they’d like, or just being close and sitting with them- your presence is just as important.

Lastly, for caregivers, family members, and anyone affected by Alzheimer’s, remember to breathe. It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to have a bad day. If you’re mad, that’s also understandable. If you’re angry because maybe your mom has the disease, you can be angry. Just remember, that person is still there even if you might not see it.

Nicole Chen reported for this article.