The first client with advanced Alzheimer’s who I worked with as a fitness trainer was named Gwen.
When I met her, she was 92 years old and had already lived for five years in the dementia section of an assisted care facility.
I never met Gwen’s adult daughter, who had seen on the internet that I work as a fitness trainer doing on-site senior wellness. My only point of contact was a phone call from the daughter asking me to help her frail mother stay as strong as possible, and a monthly check that arrived in the mail.
I didn’t know much about Gwen’s personal life, or what she had been like before Alzheimer’s had influenced her personality.
Gwen was so sweet and easy to love! She never remembered me, but was happy to meet me twice each week. Since she was physically so weak, we would do some exercises from her bed and others from her wheelchair and still have time remaining in our one hour session.
“Would you like to go explore the garden, Gwen?”
The answer was always “yes,” so I would roll her wheelchair out to a shady spot on the beautiful patio.
It was hard for Gwen to make conversation and since I didn’t really know her, I would guess at what keywords might trigger happy and fond memories for her. Do you like to have picnics? Have you been to the beach? What are your favorite drinks? Do you enjoy lemonade?
Soon after my first Christmas with her, I was surprised, but not really, to get a phone call from her daughter letting me know that Gwen had passed away peacefully.
What the daughter said next remains to this day, my favorite and most touching compliment ever as a fitness trainer. She told me that after five years of extremely depressing Christmases with Gwen’s declining conversation skills, during this recent and final visit Gwen had been more able to talk with her family.
I do not claim to be responsible for the improvement in Gwen’s communication abilities. Her daughter, though, said to me, “You’ve given our family a beautiful gift. Our last memories with our mother and grandmother are very loving, and we will cherish them.”
Wow. It is such an honor to be invited into people’s families and to meet their parents, who are still so beautiful, despite their decline and challenges.
I send love to each of you reading this who are caring for someone. One thing I have seen in every caregiving circumstance so far, is that your friend or family member who is struggling with the frustrations of aging and/or illness appreciates your help much, much more than they are able to express to you directly.