Transcending Memory Loss Through Creativity and Connection

At the age of 50, Jan* was at the top of her profession in social work and living a full, active life with her husband Alan* and their four children. Then, without warning, she was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia.

Initially, Alan was able to care for his wife at home, but as her cognitive health declined and her basic needs increased, he realized it was time to move her into a memory care facility.

Between Alan’s daily visits, social activities, communal dining, and additional services from Intermountain Homecare, Jan was doing well in memory care. And then COVID hit, shutting down all group activities and family visits. The lack of socialization and human connection was devastating for Jan. She became withdrawn and isolated, turning agitated and aggressive in the late afternoon and through the night, a dementia-associated pattern called sundowning.

Alan knew that his wife needed more companionship than either the facility or the home health aide could provide. At the recommendation of Intermountain Homecare, Alan reached out to Homespire, an Intermountain Healthcare company, to find a caregiver who could spark joy in his highly intelligent, verbal, and artistic wife. He found that—and much more—in Amber, a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and caregiver at Homespire.

Finding what sparks joy

Shortly after meeting Jan, Amber suspected that her client’s recent changes in mood and behavior might be related to an undiagnosed urinary tract infection, an assessment that proved correct. While the antibiotics cleared up the infection, the disruptive behaviors continued.

Amber knew from Alan that Jan had been an amazing artist, so on one of her next visits, she suggested they check out the arts and crafts room. And just like that, Jan’s spark was back.

Nourishment for body and soul

Four days a week, Amber comes to the memory care facility and spends three hours with Jan. “Once COVID put a stop to communal dining and social activities, Jan lost interest in eating,” said Jennifer Beck-Schmidt, DC, RN, General Manager of Homespire. “Now, Amber sits down with her and says, ‘We have to eat dinner first and then we can go paint.’” If it were up to Jan, they’d go straight to the art room, but Amber gently keeps her on task, using watercolor, pastel chalk, or drawing as a highly effective carrot.

At the end of the evening, Amber always takes a photo of the two of them with Jan’s artwork and shares it with the whole family. “I’ve talked to her husband twice this week and he’s just delighted with the one-on-one care and how well she’s doing,” Jennifer said. “Having that that extra support—even in a facility—can really make a difference.”

Two-way friendship

According to facility staff, Jan doesn’t remember any of the caregivers’ names, but when Amber arrives, she lights up and tells them, “Oh, my friend Amber is here!” It’s a friendship that goes both ways.

Amber’s mother, Stacy, who also works for Homespire, says her daughter always comes home with a huge smile on her face. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Amber as happy as when she spends time with Jan,” Stacy said, adding that copies of Jan’s artwork are all over the house.

What inspires Amber most is being able to give her client what she once gave to the world, her mother explained. “Amber told me that when Jan was a social worker, she often worked with children who had emotional difficulties, so to get them to open up, she would paint and draw with them,” Stacy said. “It means a great deal to Amber that when Jan’s having a tough day, she can help her client in the same way that Jan used to help children.”

Part of the family

Every Sunday, which is one of the days Amber comes to the facility, Jan’s family has a conference call. Sometimes she’ll remember on her own, but when she forgets, Amber is there to remind her and help with the phone connection. “Amber wants to make sure that Jan knows that she’s still part of the family,” Stacy said. “Amber always makes a point of thanking the family for allowing her to be part of Jan’s life, too.”

Jennifer believes that this relationship has changed Jan’s life—and the lives of her husband, children, and extended family. And from what Stacy reports, it’s also changed Amber’s life.

Wherever your loved one calls home—in community, assisted living, or memory care—Homespire can help them (re)discover their spark! To learn more, schedule a free consultation today.

 

*Note: Names have been changed to protect family privacy.