As part of the Martin Luther King Day of Service led by United Way, I spent a few hours in a day center for adults with chronic illness, developmental and physical disabilities. The center had their first “Casino Day” after many of the clients expressed interest in playing poker, dominos, Bingo, and Uno. I hadn’t played Uno in years, but I found myself leading the game with many wonderful seniors.
One of the players knew the rules well enough. I couldn’t recall what the symbol for “skip” meant, but luckily we figured it out. I kept the “discard” pile of cards neat and tidy, and called out the color and number of each card, and kept track of turns as somewhat of an “Uno referee.”
It was very amusing to watch their reactions to cards such as the dreaded “draw four.” Another player was accused of cheating, and a slight-bit of drama unfolded, but it was all in good fun.
When I first sat down to chat with a client, we had a long conversation about her favorite games and activities. She lit up when she recalled her affection for sailboating. I noticed when she started to ask me about my life, she repeated the same questions a few times throughout our conversation.
I could see the confused look in her eyes become more pronounced as she thought back on certain topics. I told her not to worry and that it would be okay, and re-directed the conversation as to not cause her stress if she couldn’t remember something.
The rich conversation continued as we exchanged information about our lives and histories. I asked for them to share their middle-names with me, and one woman said she didn't have one while another told me hers was Mae, the month she was born spelled with an "e."
Caring for individuals with developmental disabilities can be incredibly taxing and stressful, according to caregiver.org. The struggles can be more difficult than caring for individuals with physical disabilities. There are many different types of common degenerative dementias, and the conditions may overlap.
Caretakers are urged to take breaks and care for their own well-being to avoid burning out. While there are many medical advancements, the daily struggles for a patient with dementia can be tremendous.
There are many ways in which a family can support an individual with dementia. Families can engage in behavioral management, safety-proofing, and offering to help resolve financial and legal issues.
My brief window into the life of a senior with memory issues, playing card games with my new friends, and just being in-the-moment with them, taught me to foster patience, understanding, and kindness by simply offering companionship and time to a stranger.
And they clearly enjoyed the company. When I stood up briefly from my seat to stretch, a senior asked me where I was going and said "Why don't you sit back down? We wouldn't want you going anywhere."
The euphoric feeling of helping make someone’s day a little more pleasant and bright not only reduced stress, it helped me to look at the world with a renewed sense of compassion and understanding.
There is no greater sense of peace than to listen, understand, and learn from our elders.
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