Understanding Dementia: Celebrating Milestones
In this week’s column, I’d like to share the experience of one of our Memory Care residents and his wife that reveals how valuable it is to celebrate important milestones in the life of a person with dementia, for the person, for their family members and for their caregivers.
A dementia diagnosis in 2003 never slowed Nate Carmen, a lifelong hiker, biker and outdoorsman, down. He and his wife, Mary Ellen Carmen, continued to bike and be outdoors every day, “doing what we wanted to do,” she says. Nate biked 525 miles from May-September in 2020, before he was admitted to Summit’s Memory Care unit later in September when it became apparent that he needed more care than she could provide.
Even today Nate’s years as an outdoorsman are a habit, and a year after he moved to Summit, he walks every day, both indoors and outside in the secure Memory Care garden or further afield with a staff member or Mary Ellen.
At a celebratory barbecue for staff and residents at Summit in late September, with a smiling Nate standing by her side, Mary Ellen reflected on her husband’s one-year anniversary in Memory Care, acknowledging that she had shed a lot of tears during the past year, but that she felt it was important to mark this milestone in both their lives.
Even though no one with a family member in Memory Care had previously asked to mark a one-year anniversary, says Mary Ellen, “I wanted to celebrate his life there and acknowledge the staff that cares for him. It takes a special person to work with someone with dementia, and they are consistently wonderful.”
Mary Ellen says that the move to Summit was “the best decision we ever made.” Even though Nate gets upset when she leaves at the end of a visit, just knowing that he is there, cared for by a skilled and loving staff, gives her “the strength to continue.” At the barbecue she thanked everyone “who helped us become a part of this really wonderful family.”
The decision to move a loved one with dementia into a Memory Care facility is complicated and at times heartbreaking.
But as Mary Ellen and Nate’s story demonstrates, it is possible to celebrate the person with memory loss exactly where they are in their life, affirming that they are truly loved, appreciated and cared for. Even though their dementia diagnosis has been life altering, it is still possible for them to live a meaningful life with the help of family and other caregivers.
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite care.
Through this column, Mary will share the experience, knowledge, and resources she and her team rely on, anticipating that it will be useful for anyone living with, caring for, or coming into contact with a person with dementia. Send your questions to Understanding Dementia at Summit, 56 Summit Drive, Whitefield, NH 03598 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mary will share information and answer as many questions as possible through this column.