I feel the need to share the most amazing experience I had recently.
It was a life-changing experience that reaffirmed my recent career change to the aged care sector and showed how we can help to unlock memories and connect with residents living with dementia using the power of creativity.
I have only been working in the Lifestyle and Wellbeing area for the past six months. Yet, in this short time I have already realised the importance of understanding and acknowledging residents’ lives and capabilities.
I had been invited to visit the Eldercare Elanora (at Stansbury) aged care facility in early October to learn more about the lifestyle program and the scheduled armchair travel day themed ‘Travelling to the USA’. The special request was that I dressed for the occasion. I had no hesitation in choosing a famous American icon and chose to come in character as Abraham Lincoln.
Prior to visiting Elanora, I decided I wanted to see the reaction of The Lodge residents if I visited dressed as Abraham Lincoln. I initially thought I would do a brief (10 minute) walk around and receive a few laughs and it would all be over.
How wrong I was …..
In the morning I dressed as Abraham Lincoln, hiring a long-tailed coat, bow tie, top hat and Lincoln-style beard. I set out on my tour of The Lodge with my colleague introducing me.
The first resident who saw me was an elderly lady, over 100 years old and living with dementia. The resident was in awe and her face lit up with excitement. She stood up and went to shake my hand. It was evident she knew I represented someone important.
I introduced myself as Abraham Lincoln and she asked whether she should call me “Sir” or “Mr President”. I invited her to call me Abraham. She extended her generosity by asking me if I would like a cup of tea and then apologising because she didn’t have one.
This was witnessed by several staff and the Chaplain whom all commented on the reaction of the resident. She did not want me to leave her so we sat and chatted for some time and had some lovely photos taken. We captured a very special moment when she kissed me and shook my hand.
The resident continued to follow me around The Lodge displaying her excitement at my visit, both verbally and physically.
That first meeting brought tears to my eyes. Something had unlocked a memory and the resident was in the moment, acknowledging, conversing and responding.
I then continued on my visit and once again received positive responses from many of the residents living with dementia. The responses included:
- Acknowledging I was someone of importance
- Greeting me with hand shakes
- Welcoming me into their rooms for cups of tea
- Displaying excitement
- Apologising for not having done their hair and make-up yet
- Asking me to join them for lunch
- Being very conversational – “I know the face, I just can’t remember your name.”
In the moment, I did feel important. Some residents recognised me immediately, and others commented how “handsome” and “well dressed” I was. Other residents asked me questions about my life.
I was thankful that I had fully researched Abraham Lincoln’s life and was able to share with them what I knew about his childhood, education, family upbringing, marriage, children, political career and achievements.
The word didn’t take long to get around that 'Lincoln' was at The Lodge and staff all came to see what the commotion was. This gave me the opportunity to talk to them about the role of the lifestyle team and the responses I had been receiving from residents.
I met many staff that I hadn’t interacted with before, some of whom now refer to me as ‘Lincoln’!
Many staff commented that the ‘famous person’ visit should be built into the lifestyle activity program, and I agree. I have been asked by other sites to dress up and visit them, so don’t be surprised if you get a visit from Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, the Queen, or who knows?
My plan to be Abraham Lincoln for 10-15 minutes turned into six hours! It was an amazing and moving experience that I won’t forget.
The responses I received and sharing of history was truly inspirational and motivated me to continue doing what I am doing. I know I made a difference in the residents’ lives that day. In return, their reactions will stay in my heart forever.
I came home that day and shared my experience with my husband and children. I was on ‘cloud nine’. I know I had helped unlock a moment in time, particularly for the residents living with dementia.
The following day I travelled to Stansbury to learn about the concept of armchair travel. I too was greeted with a wonderful welcome by staff and residents. The armchair travel event was a huge success with lots of preparatory work engaging residents in learning about American history – presidents, movie stars, the 50 states, food, icons and music in group activities.
The day was a huge success and it was great to see residents and staff – nursing, administration, Medirest and volunteers, actively involved.