My father-in-law, Lester Potts, was a proud member of the Lions’ Club, a men’s community service organization similar to Rotary or Kiwanis.
Until he moved into an Alzheimer’s assisted living unit, he had perfect attendance at their meetings for over 42 years.
During the last several years of those 42, advancing Alzheimer’s disease made it unsafe for him to drive. However, his fellow Lions, knowing how important the club was to my father-in law, offered to take him to the meetings and bring him home.
This sounds like a very small kindness, but what they did was of tremendous value to Lester and the family. You see, Lester was a wanderer, so during the meetings, his fellow Lions had to watch over him, to make certain he didn’t wander away.
Also, he would say things that didn’t make sense, and sometimes were disruptive, during their meetings. Those Lions never complained. On the occasions when a family member was scheduled to pick him up and the meeting ended early, one of the Lions would wait with Lester, never acting as a “babysitter” in Lester’s eyes, but as a friend who wanted to spend time talking with him.
When Lester attended Caring Days Adult Daycare Center, he thought he was volunteering there, rather than being a client himself. When committee meetings were held at the center, he would get a legal pad and pen, sit at the table with the committee members, and take notes.
This man, who had served faithfully on committees for various organizations in times past, was treated as if he was a valued committee member, not a person the committee was working to serve. Lester mostly observed.
However, when it came time to volunteer for various tasks the committee needed to accomplish, Lester always spoke up, “My son, Danny Potts, will do that.” Fortunately for Daniel, the chair would thank Lester and ask for other volunteers!
We cover many issues in our book, A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver, but none is more important than making the person with Alzheimer’s feel like he or she is a valued member of the community.
Certainly, this starts with the family, but the miracle occurs when people in the broader community participate in this process. The people in the Lion’s Club and at Caring Days understood this innately, helping promote human dignity in a disease that seeks to destroy it all together.
I remember the townspeople and police who would bring my grandfather home when he wandered away, making him believe they were going for a walk together. I think about the men at my father-in-law’s church who would withstand the pain of Lester’s bone-crushing handshake with a smile.
These small kindnesses mean the world to the family of a person with Alzheimer’s disease.
Caregivers, I wish for you these “angels among us” — people in the community who help ease the burden along your caregiving journey, and help promote the human dignity of your loved one with Alzheimer’s.
These people may be friends, family members or total strangers, but in my experience, they are the closest thing to angels we are likely to see in this life.