Carol Bagazinski, author and president of NextFriend, LLC, describes her experiences and time spent visiting with a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more from her honest and touching Alzheimer’s story.
She cannot remember my name, even though for the most part, I have been her only visitor for years. Repeatedly, she asks me what it is. Experts on aging will tell you she keeps asking because she doesn’t recall I just answered her. I believe it’s because she desperately wants to remember it this time. As I said, I am her only visitor. That she remembers.
She cries frequently. She said she cries because she is lonely. There are others just down the hall who will sit with her. She said she cries because she is confused. There is an entire staff ready to guide her. She said she cries because she can’t do things for herself. There are aides available 24/7 to help her. She said she cries because she is fearful. “You don’t know what it is like to be alone,” she tells me. She is right. I don’t know what it is like to be alone.
I live with those I love dearly. I hit the ground running when I wake in the morning, coaxing my three sons out of their beds, and hurrying them off to school. Self-employed, I work from home, alongside my husband who has been there for me more than 20 years. During the evenings, I am among my children. They laugh, chatter, bicker, and as three teenage boys will do, they sometimes get on my nerves. At night, sleeping next to the man with whom I plan to spend forever, I feel safe and loved. I attend business meetings, social gatherings and school events. I go to the grocery store, the library and church. I stop by the pharmacy, a friend’s house and the bakery to pick up bagels for breakfast. While I am busily absorbed with other aspects of my life, Maggie waits.
She isn’t always crying. Generally, she seems happy enough. Tooling around in her wheelchair, she greets other residents with a friendly smile. If someone tries to engage her in conversation that is too much for her to handle, she responds with a quick “If you say so,” then rolls on. She favors repeating common sayings such as “If you say so,” and “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” She has a whole repertoire, and they easily slip off her tongue at appropriate times.
I visit her at least once a week. Usually, I bring flowers or a small treat — she likes chocolate milkshakes. Sometimes we go out for dental or other medical appointments. However, this is difficult and costly due to mobility issues requiring special transportation. Every now and then, I straighten her closet and drawers while we chat. In the warmer months, we sit on the porch, and she recalls happier times in the old neighborhood. At times, she teaches me a few Italian words, and then tells me how much she misses her mom and dad. This brings tears to my eyes as I am also familiar with the big empty hole in your heart when you miss your mom and dad.
I stopped by on Valentine’s Day, and found Maggie sitting with a bag of cookies in her lap. When asked where they came from, she paused and said she wasn’t sure, but thought it must have been a fellow who was sweet on her many years ago. I smile, knowing it was most likely the kind-hearted family friend, 30 years her junior, who hired me. Heeding the advice of an Alzheimer’s specialist, I meet her where she’s at, and simply comment on his thoughtfulness.
Oftentimes, as I prepare to leave, she begins to cry, insisting I am the only person who is nice to her. My conscience does not allow me to meet her on this one. I remind her of blessings and the many others who care for her. She regains her composure, thanks me again, and quips, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Waving goodbye, I respond, “If you say so.” She smiles as I walk out the door.
Carol Bagazinski, the founder and president of NextFriend, LLC since 2009, is skilled in helping the elderly manage daily living situations. Experienced in planning, team building and program implementation, Ms. Bagazinski is a nationally recognized Creative Excellence Award winner and a U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce JCI Senator. On the job, she finds it is best to meet the elderly “where they are at” in terms of their reality.
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