Today I’m truly honored to introduce to you one of my newest friends. She’s more like a kindred spirit because we found ourselves in the same even course (Dale Carnegie), we both work in places we love and we are both photographers! Also, we are planning both coffee and sushi dates! Who could ask for a better friend?
Tara is an incredible human and has a truly good heart. She is an incredible photographer, who has a passion for storytelling and showcasing real life for what it is. I hope you enjoy her story about dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, which is a passion of mine to help cure and it is another reason Tara and I connected.
Just as any normal college student, I would go to class, learn as much as I could, tackle my homework, and still think, “what am I going to do with everything I’m learning, what do I even want to do?” I was set on a Graphic Communications Management degree with an Applied Photography minor and I thought I was all set. I completed an internship at Menasha Packaging in Neenah, WI and enjoyed it for the most part, but that following semester I would change my major.
I was completing my portfolio for my photography minor and we had to choose a subject to photograph that had a lot of meaning behind it. We had to tell a story. It took me a while to think of a subject, but then I heard from the CEO of Valley VNA Senior Care in Neenah, WI about their Music and Memory Program.
Valley VNA Senior Care is a non-profit organization that provides assisted living in Neenah, WI as well as non-medical in-home care within the Fox Valley, and at that time, that was about all the information I knew about the organization. Long story short, I decided that my subject would be the effects of music on individuals living with Dementia. The Music and Memory program was started by a man named Dan Cohen in New York. He had a simple idea of adding iPods to nursing homes and assisted livings and it started (and continues) to make a lot of changes to peoples lives all over.
If you don’t know much about this disease, I will sum it up as quickly as I can. Dementia is an umbrella and underneath the umbrella, there are different kinds of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, Lewey Body, Parkinson’s, Alcohol-related dementia, and the list goes on. All in all, it slowly takes away your quality of life, and as of right now, there is nothing we can do to stop the disease. We can slow it down just a little bit, and for every individual, the disease affects them differently and at a different pace. Different parts of your brain will slowly diminish. You will soon lose sight of what is wrong from right, how to speak everyday words, depth of vision gets smaller and smaller, signals that your brain used to send to you like, “you need to use the bathroom,” “you need to eat,” will disappear, and the most commonly known, your memory will fade.
I don’t want to scare anyone by any means. But this is the world I walked into when I stepped foot into Valley VNA as I photographed their Music & Memory program. I had no exposure to this type of setting before. I didn’t have my CNA (certified nursing assistant) training, let alone any experience taking care of a grandparent. I was more on the creative artsy side, especially with photography. But little did I know, that this photography experience would change my entire perspective on life and what direction I wanted to go.
That next semester, I applied for a job as a caregiver at an assisted living in Menomonie, WI as I was finishing up my schooling. I decided to change my major to Business Administration, with the hope to go towards Health Care Administration. I would keep my photography minor, but I knew I wanted to make the switch.
Fast forward a couple years and getting experience working as a caregiver at Valley VNA Senior Care, I am now the Community Outreach Coordinator and from time to time work alongside our amazing caregivers in our assisted living. I am proud of many things, but one of my tops is the work that our caregivers do day in and day out. I think this career is one of the most underappreciated positions, and I wish I could do more for them. The compassion they give to our residents, the work ethic they have is amazing, and I wish they could understand how much I appreciate them.
When I worked my first caregiving job in a memory care unit, I was in shock. How did I not know about this world before? How did I not learn about this in high school? Hands down, if I would of known more about Dementia care, I would of taken a different path- or maybe I had to grow up a bit to realize how important this is and how this world would capture my heart.
It’s amazing how working in this field has changed my life. To not take things for granted. To go after what you want. These individuals we take care of lived their lives to the fullest, they are very wise, they were moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, business owners, husband and wives, friends, siblings. They accomplished amazing things, worked so hard for everything they had, they didn’t feel entitled, they didn’t take things for granted. Dementia does not define them. They are still wise, they still love you as much as they did before. They can’t help that words don’t come out the same. They can’t help that their personality has changed or they have little more of a temper now. They are still the beautiful person you knew and loved.
And our caregivers work hard every day to bring quality of life through music, Namaste care, activities, love, and compassion, taking the time to visit with them and give them their full attention. I’m very proud to be part of such amazing team and community, and I’m very blessed to have found this path in life.
You can find Tara’s information and work here –>
We highly encourage you to learn more about the Music And Memory Program and what listening to music does for a person with Dementia. –> Music And Memory
If you want to further support dementia research, learn more at the Alzheimer’s Association website. –> www.alz.org
This is blog 20 of 28 of the #28DaysOfBloggingChallenge! See the Day 1 post for more details on why I’m participating!
Would you like to document your family or farm with heirloom photos and a written story to share with your family, friends and future generations? Contact photographer and writer Alyssa Bloechl for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 920-445-8727.