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Living Life Beyond a Dementia Diagnosis

Location : San Juan Capistrano

By Doreen Cregg, Silverado San Juan Capistrano

As I have been meeting with families it has been a pleasure to explain the value and benefits of our new Nexus program.

We all know it can be a very difficult decision for a family to place a love one that they feel is “too high functioning” or “not ready for this”. When that resident moves into our community they get to trade boredom, loneliness, and helplessness for spontaneity, companionship, helpfulness and purpose.

We can’t cure this disease but we can sustain life. Our residents need to feel that their continued existence means something. They can still experience meaningfulness and satisfaction.

Recently a lovely lady name Vicky moved to our community from an assisted living where she was asked to leave because she was “annoying” and “bothering the front desk”. She is an incredible artist and now is teaching other residents how to paint, as well as other artistic techniques. She has even offered lessons to the staff, myself included. When I thanked her for this she said, “No, thank you. I really enjoy teaching. It’s what I do and have done for years”. There needs to be a value or purpose to existence even in a state of dependence. This is a perfect example of that.

We have another young lady named Penny, and though she says she doesn’t feel she needs to be here, she enjoys “helping others” and she told me, “I like offering friendship to other people that need me. It just makes me feel good”.   

And then there is Ed, who “helps” our maintenance staff. He went from feeling in his words “restless and worthless” to “having something to do”. He told Jose, our Director of Plant Operations, “I can still fix things and be useful”. He also likes being with Jose because he knows he is the “boss”.

Our new resident, Marilyn, said to me, “I’m having more fun than I’ve had in 30 years”. She is quite the ping-pong player!

We know our residents’ lives still have value. It is when we discover what our residents value that the magic happens, allowing us to personalize their experience at Silverado. No matter what type of impairment our residents have, they are still experiencing life.

I explain to families that safety is a given here. It’s what comes after safety that counts. Just as much attention goes into creativity and engagement. Our Nexus program caters to and supports the residents’ needs and interests.

When someone has a cognitive impairment it doesn’t mean they are not capable. They are capable of more than one would expect. Of course these impairments require sensitivity and a shift in expectations. Nexus allows us to demonstrate the possibilities and capabilities of those with cognitive impairment. 

Impaired does not have to mean damaged beyond repair. What it does mean is that we need to open our minds and appreciate the moments because that is what life is all about.

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