By Claire Maher
Of many service opportunities for 8th grade students, the Greens is a different kind of way to interact with and be a part of the community we live in. A group of seven students visits The Greens at Greenwich every Thursday for six weeks, participating in activities and fun events with the residents there. The Greens at Greenwich is a residential home for people diagnosed with dementia. There are different activities to be done each time, including arts and crafts, presentations, dress up for Halloween, and so many more fun and interactive things. The Greens’ residents are physically capable, but they receive assistance for cognitive decline.
The Greens has only 25 residents, each between the ages of 55 and 101. Some of them are more lively and capable than others, but all of the residents are amazingly accomplished people. Recently, we had our first visit at the Greens, and we were introduced to the seven residents participating in the buddy group that Sacred Heart has created. One of the women was the first woman to ever attend Michigan business school, while another one of them was a Rockette. Astonishingly, one of them was Miss. U.S.A.! These people have accomplished so much in their lives, and are living in a home like this one to be challenged mentally, and to be assisted and cared for when they are no longer able to do so on their own, because of their diagnosis of dementia.
With dementia, many people have shorter attention spans, but the biggest symptom of dementia is memory loss. Each case of dementia is different, memory wise, but when you have dementia your short term memory no longer retains information the way it used to. You can still remember things from your past, as your long term memory isn’t generally affected. When new things are introduced to someone with dementia the time their minds can retain this information varies. Sometimes as little as three minutes go by when they forget the name of the person they were just talking to. But sometimes memory of new information can last a day, or until you are presented with it again. Difficulty remembering names and faces is also a function of the mind that is lost. Each week the eighth graders participating in the Greens buddy program are paired with the same people. Beth, who coordinates this service opportunity for Sacred Heart, explained that we will have to reintroduce ourselves to the residents, and to our buddy, upon each visit. Our buddies will also not have known what we did the week prior, so as we complete each trip down to the Greens we make a slide, a part of a bigger slideshow, that we can show to our buddies each week.
For the first week of visitations we discussed our families, and a little bit about each other. My buddy’s name is Teresa, and she has been living at the Greens for a while now, with weekly visits from her son. I got to know Teresa, and how she loved the cat she had as a young girl, and the dog her family eventually fostered. She has visited places like Florida and California, and even lived in Florida for a little while while working there, but only for a few weeks. Her brother lives in California, and she went out to visit him several times, loving the California coast. One thing that has stuck with me from the first visit at the Greens, was how clear her long term memory was. I had told her about my love for music and learning to play the piano. That story sparked a memory that she loved to sing when she was a little girl. She started to recite the lyrics from a song she sang when she was around my age, 13, with her best friend at the school concert. It fascinated me to see first hand the effects of dementia, and how long term memory remains while short term memory is a struggle.
As we visit the Greens for the weeks to come I look forward to meeting with Teresa many more times, connecting with her and creating a relationship. While she may not recall the last time we met, or what kind of things we have done together, I still am so excited to see what kind of relationship I will build with Teresa in the weeks to come. Dementia affects people both on the personal level, as well as those caring for them, but I still hope to have so much fun and get to know Teresa well over the next month.