we had one resident named Emma who used to be a nurse, and she loved to talk all the time. when she first came, she was still speaking English, and she loved to talk and often narrated what was going on around her, like, “Okay, now I will sit down and enjoy my breakfast. Here’s my fork, I’m going to eat now.”
originally she was from somewhere in Europe though, so as her Alzheimer’s progressed, she stopped speaking English and only spoke in her native language. she still was always talking though, just we couldn’t understand what she was saying. her husband visited almost everyday, and he could understand her. often he would just hold her hand and listen to her.
one day I saw her sitting with another of our residents, Annie, a very nice lady originally from Japan. it was the first time I had seen the two of them sit together. Annie also had progressed from speaking mostly English to more of her native Japanese, but she still could understand some English.
Emma was talking a mile a minute in her native language, and Annie was sitting directly across from her, holding one of Emma’s hand between her hands, one hand on the bottom and one hand on top. And as Emma talked, Annie was nodding and looking into Emma’s eyes with understanding. Annie didn’t understand the words Emma was saying, but maybe that’s not what was important. Annie understood that Emma could use someone to listen to her, a friend who could give her some comfort and happiness. So she was there for Emma, holding her hand warmly and lovingly, giving Emma her undivided attention. It was a really tender and sweet moment, a wonderful moment of unexpected friendship between these two women.
sometimes words aren’t heard or understood, but often people with Alzheimer’s can still feel your heart or your intentions. they really live in the moment I think, because that’s their only choice as the disease progresses. sometimes you approach one of them, and they might be a bit confused about the situation or what to do, but if you give them a nice big smile, they see it, and they feel it, and they give you a nice big smile right back. and then you see their smile, and feel it, and it brightens your day too.
disclaimer: names and other details have been changed in these stories.