A Letter of Encouragement to my New Memory Care Activity Assistant – Cathy Braxton Improv4Caregivers, NAAP Contributor
First off I’d like to welcome you to a work environment that is as unique as you are. As you may have noticed already, things in a memory care unit are unlike any other place in the world. It is chaotic and busy, constantly buzzing with activity and yet riddled with moments of frustration and concern by those we will be caring for. On top of that the work you will be doing will be very difficult to describe to others. You may try, but believe me you will always fall short of having an outsider truly understand what stresses you experience and what joys you can create. But don’t fret, that is why I am here… and why the other Memory Care Activity Assistants are here too… to be your sounding board because we DO understand. We are in this together.
Secondly I want to say thank you for choosing this role, this job, this occupation. It is not a common job and many folks would be too afraid to venture into this profession. But here you are, willing, able, excited and nervous. We activity professionals occupy a small and very specific niche in the national job market, specifically those that focus on purposeful activity programming for persons living with dementia. You will come to find that as your skills sharpen you will harness an incredibly unique set of gifts as you bring moments of joy and connection to the lives of those that live moment to moment. Savor who you are and all the uniqueness that you will bring to their lives. That is why I hired you… because you are willing to be vulnerable, step into someone else’s shoes, try on new perspectives and find a way to always make the person you are caring for look and feel their best.
Now for the nitty gritty… for the first few weeks you are going to go home exhausted. You may not mop your floors or vacuum as often as you would like. Dust bunnies may appear in your kitchen, but don’t fret. The cleaning and laundry and grocery shopping will somehow miraculously get done, I promise. So grant yourself the grace to acclimate to this new job, your new home away from home. Quick tip, your family will not abandon you if you just toss in a frozen pizza! You may find that making small accommodations for yourself and how you prepare for each day will be short-cuts that save you energy and time. For me, I shower at night and prepare my outfit the night before. I also pack my lunch while I am making dinner for my family. I cherish my much needed recharge time, so I maximize every minute.
And speaking of recharge, do not follow my example. Right now you may see me eating at my desk or swallowing a sandwich like a python while preparing an activity calendar on the computer. Do not do as I do, do as I encourage… take your lunch and take it seriously. Take your break times seriously too. Yes, long term care is a 24/7 job, but that does not mean that you should sacrifice your sanity. Eat, read, listen to music, walk, indulge in some Netflix… do whatever you want to do during your time off. We will all benefit from this. A burnt out employee is one that squanders joy and struggles to make connections. I need you fresh.
So let’s hit on the concept of programming for a minute. Remember you are not a babysitter but rather a vital part of the care team that brings forth meaningful and purposeful programs to enrich people’s lives. That is no easy feat but I know you will master it. The daily calendar of programming is there as a guide for you. Nothing is set in stone and some programs just won’t work. No matter how hard you push and encourage, there are days when your residents will JUST NOT BE INTO IT. That is ok. It is not a reflection of you or your abilities. Days like that are to be expected and I have them often myself. Notice the print on the side of the calendar that states that “activity programs are subject to change based on residents preferences and choices”? That is your escape hatch and an assurance that Plan B is not only allowed but encouraged. Remember that we work in the home of these residents. They cordially allow us to come in each day and do our best for them, so in the end the residents call the shots. Just follow their lead. The calendar is a guide, a list of suggestions to jumpstart your creativity. Wherever the residents tell you to go, you follow. Now don’t get me wrong, we definitely want to attempt to follow our calendar to the best of our abilities and post any changes. Just know I’ve got your back and I am here to hear your suggestions.
As for suggestions, I welcome them. There are certain types of programs I am very strong in and some that I struggle with (case in point, I have never been the most creative with exercise programs). You may find the same for you. Let me know what your strengths are and where you struggle. Together we can find a way to deliver a well rounded day of programs to our residents without straining our resources. I actually love to read out loud (mostly because I like the sound of my own voice!), so if that is not a program you naturally gravitate to, let me know. Tag teaming is the name of the game in this office. We are here for each other and to make each other, as partners, look good.
I want to wrap this up by letting you know how important you are to our residents. You will become their confidant, their best friend, the sunshine on gloomy days and the reassuring hug that they each need. Please find honor in the vulnerabilities they share with you. For many this is the last chapter of their lives and you are not only witnessing it but becoming an active participant in how they write this last chapter. What greater honor in life but to be the hero at the end of the story. They will become your heroes in so many ways, and you will become theirs. So go forth and conquer and know: YOU GOT THIS!
Yours Truly and Always By Your Side,
You Memor Car Coordinator (Facilitator, Manage, Director, Programmer)