SUPPORT FOR OLDER ADULTS WITH MEMORY LOSS AND THEIR FAMILIES

Nurturing OPICA Members’ Spirituality

In the Spirit Builders’ group, I begin by introducing myself, and go around the room, asking members to introduce themselves.  This reinforces the idea that we are here and connected in this community, encouraging engagement.  Several members have shared in previous groups that they love coming to OPICA, and that “it sure beats staying at home and staring at the four walls.” 

Typically, I offer an uplifting story that I have read or one I have experienced, and ask for members to share, if they choose, feelings that came up, as well as their own stories. 

This week, I began with a story I read online, not one I might normally select, but I found it rich with possibilities for conversation and was curious how the group would respond.   The story concerned a woman in her fifties who assisted a young person, about to have a seizure on a New York subway one early evening.  The young person caught the older woman’s interest as she removed her colorful scarf from around her neck and neatly folded it on her lap.  She then removed a laminated sheet from her bag, which she later learned contained the steps to take assisting someone in the midst of a seizure. The woman was drawn to this young person, and was ready to respond when the young woman looked toward her asked for help.  The young woman explained that she frequently had seizures, felt one coming on and told her that everything someone assisting needed to know was on the sheet.  She especially did not want 911 called as the bright lights and commotion tended to exacerbate her seizures. The young woman repeating how tired she was and she simply needed to get home and rest. She did indeed have a seizure as the older woman referred to the information sheet for guidance. Throughout the episode that woman felt this laminated sheet was her anchor. The woman rode the subway with the young person for several stops beyond her own, and helped the person get safely home, as this was all she wanted to do.  Afterward, the older woman thought a lot about what had happened: the independence of the young woman, what it must be like never knowing when the next seizure might happen, how adamant the young woman was not to call 911, the importance of lending a hand and the interconnectedness of us all.

I told the group that a lot of feelings had come up for me and wanted to hear what the group felt about it.  This began a very revealing discussion in the group [all names have been changed.] Jane, a retired nurse with mild to moderate dementia, described to the group the differences between a Petite Mal and Grand Mal seizure and the warning signs.  This prompted one person, Sally to say that she had had seizures when she was very young and felt very vulnerable.  Sally, a woman in her 70’s with cognitive deficit, said that when she was a little older, she met another young woman who lived with seizures, and they would help each other to not let fear prevent them from asking for help.  She said she had not had a seizure for many years, but still lived with questions of a recurrence. 

That prompted yet another member to add that it’s scary to live with questions.  She has cognitive deficit and is now fighting cancer.  She said, “I’m kind of like the cowardly lion”. I nodded and expanded on her statement that being afraid is a very normal feeling and that putting one foot in front of the other anyway is true courage, which is what the cowardly lion learned.  Others remarked how brave the young woman was, how scary an experience must’ve been and how concerned her parents probably were.

I typically close the group by singing a song related to the day’s discussion, and I chose “That’s What Friends Are For”.  Several members joined in.  I then asked the members, as I usually do, to hold hands, if they chose, to form an energy circle.  Typically, a member might be reluctant.  On this day, however, each member eagerly extended his or her hand to create the circle. I said OPICA is our community, and we are here for each other/ Each day we have an opportunity to help each other by extending a kindness or a smile, I closed by offering that each and every one of us can give or received kindnesses throughout the day. 

At the close of the group, one of the members remained.  I could tell he wanted a private space to talk with me.  Indeed, he did.  He sat and shared his grappling with a current decision he needs to make as his daughter has expressed her strong desire that he move to the DC area to live with her.  She wanted her dad nearby, which would mean leaving all of his friends here in L.A. and at OPICA.

NOTE:  The Spirit Builders Group meets every Tuesday from 10:15 to 11:00 at OPICA.  Participation is open to anyone who would like join that week.

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